Humanity and empathy are key to a better world. I am relentless in finding books to teach my sons these themes. With all the political turmoil and division our country is facing, I needed a reminder of what truly matters; teaching and shaping future generations to lead with humanity.
This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From, is an exceptional book to align children with the value of roots and tolerance for cultural differences.
The author’s concept is to take the child on a journey of imagining what it is to leave everything behind and have to start a new life. Before I read books to my children, I personally take the time to read and absorb the message. I tend to ask them a question that will inspire deeper thinking before we read together. “Imagine if mommy and daddy announced we were leaving today to a place FAR away. You are only able to bring a small suitcase because we are never coming back.” I vividly remember the look of sadness on both their faces.
The story is narrated by a teacher who tells her students the story of her great-grandmother’s voyage of crossing the great sea to a new land. Her parents informed her that they needed to leave and she could only take a suitcase with the things she loved most. She decided to wear as much clothes as possible so there was more space available in the suitcase. She took ribbons, snacks, shoes, her whole family tree, pen, pencil, journal, comb, barrette, and her great-great-great grandmother’s necklace.
The teacher then encourages her students to imagine they had to leave tomorrow and sends them home with a suitcase to fill with the things they love most. The book then takes you on a journey of what some of the students chose to place in their suitcases. It ranges from dolls, show tickets, stuffed animals, berets, medals, a Nintendo DS, a signed Harry Potter book, baby-tooth tin, passed down belongings from relatives, Legos, camera, and glasses. The class then brings the suitcases back and share what they contain inside. I particularly loved the metaphor the teacher gave of the suitcase being like your own history book.
For who you all are isn’t JUST what you’ve GOT, but part what you learn, part what you’re taught. Who you become STARTS with your past, family histories and stories that last.
The last page of the book is a pop up suit case that engages the reader to fill the suitcase with the things that would say to the world, “Hi THERE, THIS IS ME!”
Once we finished, I announced to the boys that I wanted them to fill a black bag, that daddy uses when he travels, with things that they would take if we had to leave and never come back. My little one asked, “But Mommy, we are not really leaving forever? Right?” “No honey, it’s just so we understand what other kids who have to leave their homes feel. It’s important to understand what others go through.”
The boys scattered around their bedroom searching endlessly for items. Both chose some clothes and their “noni”, which is the name of endearment they call their sleeping buddies. Their “nonis” have been with them since infancy. My oldest also chose his math trophies, medals, MineCraft books, and some of his artwork. My youngest chose Legos, a variety of his favorite stuffed animals and books.
“Mommy, could we take Maggie?” My oldest asked. Maggie is our pet dog. “No, honey. She would have to stay. We can take a picture of her to always remember.” My oldest loves our dog immensely and he instantly had a look of somber upon his face.
“Why can’t we take her? He asked. “Because we would have to leave everything behind and start a new life. Just like Daddy, Grandma Tere, Tia Vianney, Tia Tania, and Tia Karen. They all had to leave Mexico, the only home they had ever known. Imagine how scared they all must have felt? Grandpa and Grandma left Cuba to be able to have a better life. Imagine coming to a new country and not knowing anyone? Titia Andrea came as a young girl from Brazil. Imagine how she felt leaving most of her family behind?”
I reminded the boys that we should consistently be kind to others.
“Please don’t forget that when you meet a new friend or encounter a classmate that has just moved to this country, offer a smile and your friendship. Help that child as much as you can. You don’t know the sadness or fear they may be experiencing.”
There is immense power in books, stories and words. They have the potential to heal and shape lives. Encourage your children to be a light in this world.