Monday, November 24, 2014

Honoring a Legacy

My grandfather passed away last week.  He spent his last few days in a hospice and while I was awaiting the inevitable on Friday morning, I spent some time telling the health care aide a little about my grandfather.  As an immigrant from Jamaica, she was fascinated to learn that my grandfather was one of the first members of my family that was born in the United States.  As a first generation American, my grandfather grew up straddled between two worlds: the opportunities and promise of America and the Jewish traditions of Europe.  He was an all-American boy with blond hair who read Hardy Boys books and played basketball.  He also spoke Yiddish, attended religious school five days a week and ate kosher food.

I was fortunate to know my grandfather for as long as I did.  As a child, he was a magical person who could do no wrong and always managed to spoil his grandchildren as most grandparents do.  As an adult, I learned to appreciate the fact that he was able to successfully navigate the two worlds that he grew up in and become an American success story.  In addition to being a husband and father to three college educated sons, he was a U.S. Army veteran and a small-business owner.

Every day as I drive to work, I pass by traditional Mexican bakeries, Hispanic churches and signs in Spanish.  While I appreciate this unique cultural neighborhood, many of my students have expressed a desire to move to a more "American" neighborhood. However as life goes on and the awkwardness of middle school passes, I hope they realize how privileged they are to grow up both bi-cultural and bi-lingual.  If my students are anything like my grandfather, they are among the last in their family to be able to say that they have lived in two cultures before losing out to assimilation.  They have the opportunity to get an education and make their dreams a reality as well as the skills needed to reach across cultural divides.  While they may not see it now, they are trailblazing a path for future generations of their family in America.  It is my hope that they embrace this awesome opportunity and give their children and grandchildren something to admire, and maybe even one day blog about.

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