Please stay seated until your fish comes to a complete stop.
These were the first words I bothered to purposely listen to at a recent family trip to that most American of locations, Sesame Place. It’s a rollicking good time, if you are between the ages of 2 and 7 or so, are well-slathered in sunscreen, not afraid of the water, availed of very game parents and don’t mind weaving your way through literally a half century (numerically, not chronologically) of strollers to get to the GIRL’S BATHROOM (lest any of us be post-pubescent) when the need should arise.
Here is something great I will say about Sesame Place. It is one of the most multicultural, multiethnic places I have ever been outside of Arlington, Virginia, where I used to work teaching ESL to adults from pretty much all over the globe, and my goodness, does anyone know how a zero beginner Mongolian even gets out of the airport when they get to the United States? I had one amazing student from Mongolia who danced for the national dance troupe doing Mongolian dance and had a picture of herself in front of Genghis Khan’s yurt, or recent iteration thereof and she said his name (pronounced correctly no doubt) about six times before whipping out her tooled leather wallet to show me an image of him on the outside and I repeated back to her (in my best fourth grade English), Genghis Khan about six times before pointing to the very same wallet. We had good times with the Mongolian students, we did.
So back to Sesame Place. There were white families, and black families, East Indian and Middle Eastern families, latino families, families from different parts of Asia, and many, many mixed families. People with white moms and latino dads and siblings who were black (or mixed), and wow, maybe I’m just living in a very whitebread society (yes I am, marraqueta anyone?), but I found it hard to be where I always want to be on the race scale, which is neutral. I don’t want to be happy for anyone about their mixed family, I just want to be neutral about it. But seeing happy healthy families in a palette of pinky white to chocolate brown just filled my heart with some kind of freakish American pride, it really did.
Among the Muslim families and the Orthodox Jewish families, there were some truly excellent bathing suits. Long sleeved and panted jobbers with a dress overtop, all made out of that shiny lycra material, and some with matching headscarves. Or one woman just sat down in what appeared to be her street clothes and hijab and her two kids came running up to her and her husband for cuddles and then ran away to shriek it up with some other kids. There was a whole group of deaf signing families, and someone came up to ask them if they’d left a bag at another ride, and after checking on the size, shape and color of the bag in question, determined that it was not theirs, and I think we all just felt our hands feel heavy and voiceless at our sides. People in wheelchairs and on crutches and a kid running out of the parking lot in a bathingsuit and hopping slightly, because she uses a prosthetic leg.
If you’d asked me if I wanted to go to Sesame Place, even in the company of my illustrious niece and my not yet 2.4 year old nephew, who we all tried to con into saying “orange” because it delights us so when he says it “auzhun one” and butterfly, because this he says “butterfl-fly,” I might have said no, because, you know, people. And lots of little ones. And plus I have some sort of tonsil-swelling plague.
But I’m thrilled I went, and not just because I stayed out in the hot sun picking up rocks with my nephew of auzhun one butterfl-fly fame, nor listened, one earphone in each of our right ears to Tom Petty’s Free Falling with my niece, while my sister drove the lot of us down the highway, all of us imitating “the lady” who lives inside the GPS unit, and my mother’s laughter leading us all into drizzles and then showers and full on storms of laughter.
Because the United States is just an amazing place to visit, and because I wish I could bottle this day and shake out a few drops whenever I hear someone that has another view of the country I grew up in, one that doesn’t let a family look like whatever a family looks like, or wants to contain us all into tiny little cells, like bees in a hive who all do the same thing. But we all tend to overgeneralize, even as we introduce the statement with “in general” people in the United States do this or eat that. Educate their children like this or like that. Some of it’s true, for some people, some times. But these two days reminded me to be careful when I do that, because I’m poniendo todo el mundo en el mismo saco (lit: putting everyone in the same bag, fig: casting too wide of a net).
I guess the person I really need to shake this day over sometimes really isn’t everyone else, it’s really me.