As I watched the pages of Facebook recently I was reminded of the vast differences between military base schools and other public schools. The schools on military bases aren't exactly private schools, though it's usually only military personnel who are able to send their children to them. There is the odd exception, like a student who lives off base but who's parent or parents teach at the school like a friend of mine from the 6th grade, Brian P.
I see the prom photos being posted with cousins being tagged in them. I see graduation pictures of the family members belonging to my friends. I see a common theme in almost every one of them though - race.
I'm so far from being racist that I can't clearly define it. I'm very proud of that fact - and I have the Military school systems to thank for that.
The schools I went to with other military kids were always diverse. I made friends with everyone I could - I liked having friends to play with on the playgrounds. My neighbor in Victorville CA were a Caucasian man and a Pilipino woman. Their children were from both backgrounds and they respectfully kept both cultures alive and well in their home. The children benefitted from it and learned at an early age to speak two languages. In school, The kid at the desk next to mine was black. A Hispanic sat behind me, and two rows away was a Turkish boy named Karem. In the front sat a Cuban girl who's name escapes me, a very popular half Chinese girl named Hye Young and a half Japanese boy I had a crush on. We had every culture and variety in my class, including a Hawaiian kid everyone thought was just awesome. There were Samoans and Thai and Indonesian. There were black, white, yellow and pink (when I played in the sun too much). There were no borders or boundaries. We were ALL friends. We all played tether ball and four square together. We took turns on the swings at recess. We played tag - and the only people who had "cooties" we're the opposite gender. We were innocent, sure. But we were also raised in diversity.
Looking through prom photos I'm reminded of the drastic culture shock I received when I left the military school and started Jr High off base.
The white kids stuck together. The Hispanics formed their own groups. The Black kids had their cliques. The Pilipino's didn't associate with others. It was as if everything I had been raised to believe was suddenly thrown out the window. Next, someone was going to tell me cats and dogs didn't get along - but Winky and Shadow had already proven they do.
I wondered about this, but being the shy child I was, I never asked. I didn't bring it up. I was too embarrassed. I didn't want to offend anyone, even though it was me who was offended. Suddenly kids didn't like me because of my race. It didn't seem fair. It didn't seem right. I was hurt.
We moved to Utah after that and I was enrolled in another public school off of the military base. There were maybe 2 other military kids at my entire school there. Most of the students were Caucasian, a couple of Hispanics, a Samoan and one black kid. Can you believe that? There was only one black kid in the whole school. Where was my diversity? Where was MY culture of all the different people? It certainly wasn't in the public schools of Utah.
When I got a job at Wendy's, my orientation consisted of watching a "Diversity in the Work Place" video. It was a silly thing for me to watch, I thought to myself. The other kid in orientation with me was surprised at the fact some cultures didn't shake hands and had different ways of communication as well as different daily attire. I was surprised in my innocence. How could they not know?
These days I see the same separations in the great city of Los Angeles. It's sad, the way certain cultures separate. They do it because there is safety in numbers and they feel more secure around people who understand them and their own culture.
We have Little Armenia, Korea Town, Little Philippines, hispanic neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods. We have schools that are 90% black or 90% white or 90% Hispanic. There is such a difference out here in the real world that the military bases didn't prepare me for. Sure, I was sheltered from learning about the Vietnam war in my elementary schools. But I was also kept away from the Columbine style of school where children of different diversity or background or orientation were demolished by peers until they snapped. I was sheltered from the racism and hate that is bred into society. I hated moving every few years or so and I do blame a lot of my disconnection from most people on that, but I'm grateful too. I lived in a Utopia the likes of which only visionaries like Gene Roddenberry could imagine. We did have peace. We did have diversity. Sure, we had fights on the playground just like everyone else, but it wasn't divided by race or religion or belief. It was divided by basically right or wrong and which we each individually believed to be the case. The Klingons fought with the Federation long before Worf ended up on the Enterprise with Picard, fighting side by side. Gene Roddenberry must have known a Military childhood - or a military brat.
We really aren't all that different - any of us. I can't change the world. I know that. But I do so wish the world would change. I miss my diversity.