My mind wandered and I was only half paying attention to the teacher. I usually found the fourth grade boring, often playing with a gold necklace I had that was normally tied in knots. I would sit and untangle it or I would draw pictures of people being carried about by propeller blades to their backs. If I could manage it, I propped a book behind the textbook, reading while listening to the teacher drone on about something or other.
Today she was speaking about how about what a wonderful country was America. She spoke about how lucky we all were to be born here. It was the fifties in and all of the teachers had signed a loyalty oath. McCarthy (Joseph that was) was extremely powerful and foreigners were not well received. People were pulled from their home, in the middle of the night, on suspicion of being communists. This was the big word of the day.
Often the school day was interrupted with sirens. We children were taught to curl up in a ball under our desks and to wait for the all clear. Even at home, I learned to hide in the closet. I did it because teacher said so. I would race to the closet, hide in the back, behind my mother’s clothes and wait for the all clear. As I remember, the television, the movies were all filled with propaganda about how dangerous the communists were to our great country.
On this day, as the teacher continued to speak, my mind wandered until I heard her say, “All Americans are superior to those born in foreign countries.” My mind became sharp and alert. What was she talking about? My parents were born in a foreign country. Did this mean I was superior to my parents? Only one way to find out. The teacher knew all. I would ask.
I raised my hand. As I raised my hand waiting calmly for her to recognize me. Well, maybe not so calmly as I remember my hand being quite excited. “Teacher, my parents were born in a foreign country. Does this mean I am superior to them?”
The Teacher looked at me and, ever so calmly turned to me and said, “Yes, it does. You are superior to your parents, because you were born here and they were not.”
Later that day, when I arrived home, I remember telling my mother about what the teacher had said. I do not remember her reaction. However, I do remember her not being very impressed by the teacher’s response. My patents had learned a long time ago, to never question authority. I do not believe they questioned it then either. However, I do remember my mother being very proud of her Phoenician/ Lebanese ancestry. The words used for white people, for Americans, were not flattering. Perhaps that day when I came home she did not say anything negative but I often remember hearing phrases like “Americans, they do not even know who their own parents are.”