My second year of teaching, I took a training class for teaching AP English. During our lunch break, we started to talk about race. I can't really remember why the conversation started but the fall out is forever etched in my head. I mentioned at some point that my husband was from Mexico. One of the teachers, a white woman in her early 50s who taught at on the "premiere" public school in Charlotte, asked me if I had children. I said "Yes. Two a boy and a girl." (other beasties weren't born yet and this could have been a pivotal moment in my desire to out breed the idiots).
"How could you do that your children?" she exclaimed.
"Umm...do WHAT to my children?" I asked.
"Well you know kids who are biracial have such hard lives. They don't know where they belong."
For a moment I was kind of stunned. Was this woman giving me shit for letting my kids be born? Really?
"Let me get this straight, you think my husband and I shouldn't have kids?"
She never said yes but just kept replaying the same refrain."Bi racial kids have no place in the world."
And from that moment is was pretty clear that I was going to be advocating for my kids until people realized that there was a place for "bi racial" kids in our society. The fight has gone on indeed. From fighting with my son's school when he was in K about his definite non-need of ESL classes to teaching my children how to respond to people making comments like "What language do you speak?" (Camille's answer for the record was "Pony Rainbow Language!") and "Did you know that all Mexicans carry guns in their pockets." We have to teach our children to be wary of law enforcement because brown people are not always treated as fairly as white people. We've had to explain why people tell their father to go back to Mexico. Why we go to protest marches to help the children of undocumented workers get the education they deserve. Life in our world has never been based on assumption of acceptance. It's been about learning to turn the frustration and anger into righteous outrage. And now I see the fruits of those efforts in my daughter's fight for endangered wolves, and my son's responses to people who used the r word.
When I was told Jude had Down syndrome, I dealt with my feelings through books. Of course I read all the "how to" books and the memoirs but I also began to read in disability studies. Why? Because I already knew that I would be advocating for Jude. And the more I read the more similarities I saw. In general people don't see a space for people like Jude in the world. We as parents are asked to justify the role our children play. The contributions they will offer. Sometimes indeed if they are even human. Don't believe me? Do a quick search of "Down syndrome" on Twitter. Check out the abortion rates for fetuses with Down syndrome. Read stories of how Drs and genetic counselors talk about Down syndrome. Look at how little money is funneled into DS medical research. Here's a study done on how people with intellectual disabilities are discriminated against in organ transplant scenarios. Remember Ethan Saylor and if you don't recognize this name, Google it. Don't forget about Antonio Martinez.
This is why I am outraged. I am outraged that my children including Jude have to fight for space in this world. I am outraged that I have to write posts defending their rights to human rights. I am outraged that people don't seem to get that we are all in this together. I am angry that my children could die because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. I am angry that I still have to angry about this.
But I am not bitter because I see in Jude a kind of new hope. H and I have often lamented how so many areas of activism are often separated into their own little circles. Too often this leads to a kind of isolation among the different groups. I personally feel stretched thin across the many groups I believe deserve equality from women to homosexuals to Hispanics and African Americans. In my daughter's beautiful eyes, I see the epicenter of those interests. She is a Hispanic female with Down syndrome who could be gay. She is the daughter of an immigrant and a woman who comes from working class Mainers. We are not rich even though we may be educated. She is the symbol of all that I have to lose if I don't win this fight for a place in the world. Because Down syndrome crosses borders. Perhaps we could say that Down syndrome erases those borders. It offers the opportunity to stand in solidarity towards one great goal.