“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”
I was born into an Irish and Italian neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Since only the tiniest drop of each bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when they celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I’m French Canadian. There is no designated day for me to do the same. Though my own family celebrated rich traditions which were the direct result of my nationality, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage. By third grade, many of these neighbors moved away. New African-American neighbors took their places. At that time, I discovered that my new neighbors found themselves in the same situation as I. No one outside of their own families celebrated their heritage with a flourish either. Sadly, most outsiders looked upon my new neighbors’ rich heritage as a threat or a curse. As for me, my new neighbors became my friends.
This childhood experience evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. In the process, I think I succeeded in honoring my students for who they were while also respecting the heritage of each one. I hope I do the same today for all of those whom I meet along the way.
God of us All, it seems that we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions more than ever these days. We continue to find reason to stand apart. Please inspire us with your loving and welcoming ways before it’s too late.
©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved