This weekend I went to the neighborhood park with my 5 year old son. When we reached at the swing area, there were a bunch of kids playing. Some white and one black kid. And his family was sitting on the bench nearby. Mom, Dad, a sister, and a brother – who was sitting separately from his family listening to his iPod.
The demeanour and the body language of the different members of the family intrigued me. They were Africans – probably from Nigeria or Kenya. The Dad was in his sleeveless vest with the vest rolled up all the way up his stomach. It was hot, so I don’t blame him, although I am not sure if a public park was the right place for that kind of dress alteration. But it seemed he was rustic and was satisfied with what had come his way by way of success and money.
The Mom was in conversation with the Dad in ther native tongue and was oblivious of her man’s demeanour or anyone else around.
The sister was dutifully sitting next to them with a shy and bemused look. The little kid’s elder brother was sitting on another bench throwing glances of disapproval at the family, while engrossed in his music. His music seemed to be a way to shut himself off from what he thought was embarassing.
The little kid, however, was the most joyous. He had no issues with anything. He played with every kid and was boisterous. He instantly developed a rapport with my son and the other girls playing there as they kept running and jumping around.
As I watched, I was wondering about the effect of society and our reactions to it as we grow older.
Societal interaction creates a baggage, which forms our own “self-worth”. Although it was one family of successful immigrants, everyone in the family had a different point of reference from which he/she had built the self worth and their way of judging.
- The little playful kid had no particular point of reference except himself. He was there to play and that is what his focus was.
- His Dad’s reference point was his native society. From that reference, he was successful and it gave him a way to interact with his current society.
- Mom’s reference was her family and specially her husband, which her society must have taught to respect.
- The sister was very along the lines of her Mom. She again was to conduct herself within the norms of her family and be dutiful.
- The brother with the music had adopted the reference of his American society. He had two difficult realities to deal with:
- One, he was black and there is a certain bias in the American society with that, which he had to deal with.
- Two, he was an immigrant and from a culture which respects education. That makes him a misfit in the normal / popular Black stereo-type, which many black kids even enforce on each other! Unfortunately though.
So, for him, being embarrassed became a weapon to tide over the two “strikes” against him, which in themselves made him a misfit for every group he would encounter around him.
This scene had an important lesson for me. That, joy and happiness is in having your locus of self firmly entrenched in you. That little joyous kid not only befriended my son, but ended up teaching me an important lesson.. unbeknownst to him.