Like most schools, we’re having a Veterans Day assembly this week. And like most schools, we’ll take time to honor our students’ relatives who served our country. This year that takes the form of kids filling out paper stars with the name of their honorable loved one and the branch in which they served. The stars will then be displayed during the assembly. It seems pretty straightforward.
And thirty years ago it would have been. Because thirty years ago, when I first started teaching at Lynnwood Elementary, our student body was predominately White, with an occasional African-American. This year I have 27 fourth graders, only eight of whom come from families who have been in this country for more than ten years. The rest come from pretty much everywhere.
So there I was, with a stack of paper stars. “Who has a family member who’s served in the Armed Forces?” Almost everyone raised their hand. Of course most of those service members fought for foreign countries. Some of them probably even fought against the US.
I was in a tight spot.
On the one hand, I want my student to know what Veterans Day is all about. And officially, it’s to honor current and former US service men and women. On the other hand, I want to be inclusive; someone who joins the Libyan army is every bit as courageous as someone who joins the US army.
And then there’s Taline’s grandfather, who apparently worked as a Vietnamese spy for the US until he was captured by the Viet Cong and thrown into prison for four years. He eventually escaped and brought his family to America. Surely he deserves a paper star.
So does Junghyun’s great uncle. He was fighting alongside my own father in the Korean War.
Or what about Lucia? Her grandfather fought in El Salvador’s civil war, in which America was helping the government fight the rebels. Lucia has no idea which side her grandfather was on. At this point, who really cares; Lucia gets a star.
In fact, everyone got a star. Matteos got one for his uncle in Ethiopia, Julia got one for her dad in the Ukraine, Nahiyan for his dad in, and so on.
The way I look at it, war is a horror that all of us share. But the people most affected by it – those whose lives are on the line – should be honored by all of us, whether they’re American or not. And Veterans Day is the time to do that. So there’s going to be at a lot of stars hanging in the gym this Thursday that represent some very brave and honorable non-Americans.
I hope that’s all right.