We are at the school talent show and a beautiful 6th grader comes on the stage to sing Rude by Magic. One of my students excitedly whispers to me, “Look Ms. Pitts, it’s a Tongan!”
Besides giggling a bit about his young, uninhibited enthusiasm and feeling the strong urge to correct him and say, “She’s not an ‘it’ and maybe we could say, ‘She’s Tongan?'”, I felt damn proud of this young man. Proud of his pride. This boy has so much passion for his culture and ethnicity. Raw, unfaltering passion.
Tonga, the only monarchy in the South Pacific, is a Polynesian state comprising of more than 150 islands. If you’re as passionate as my student and crave learning like me, check out this website to learn more about the “Friendly Islands”:
Many of my students are either Hispanic or Tongan. They know where they are from, the language they speak at home, and the cultural food their families share. However, none of them have as much curiosity and pride about their ethnicity as this young boy. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe they do, but they are not as open about it. There, THAT there is the problem. It’s not a mystery that races other than the white race have been oppressed. This is no secret. It’s also obvious that the undoing of this trend of bias and oppression takes time, will take time. Maybe the beginning of that is helping our young future be proud of where they come from?
It seems simple when it’s put that way, but it’s really not as easy as saying, “Be happy you’re Mexican! Learn about your background. Learn your family tree! Perfect your language or favorite cultural dish!” It’s not that easy. What is easier is helping to create an environment where everyone feels like they belong, like they’re safe, but at the same time like individuals with their own uniqueness.
I strongly believe that my students who are Mexican, Tongan, Black, should constantly be exposed to role models of their race. They should have strong, positive people belonging to their race to look up to, along with role models who are white, brown, purple, and rainbow. This is not to create a divide or the misunderstanding that if you’re black, you should only look up to Kid President, but not Captain America. No. Kids need to see people from their race who are doing great things. At the same time, they should be taught that all people have the power to be great, regardless of skin color or background.
Mr. Passion has taught me how to say, ‘Tonga’ correctly and a little about what it’s like on his archipelago, on his slice of heaven. More importantly, he’s taught me why being proud of who you are and knowing where your roots lie deep is vital to truly understanding yourself and the world around you.
As much as I have learned from my student, I still had to Google the facts. Thank you Google, Nations Online, and I’m sad to admit, Wikipedia…