Thursday, November 20, 2008

political correctness and over generalizations

We live in an environment that is as racially, culturally and socially diverse as any environment could be. And ever since we have moved to San Diego, for the first time in my life, I have felt like a minority.

Or rather, definitely not part of the majority.

In a neighborhood that is very close to the Mexican border, we live on a street where there are 12 homes.

There are two Caucasian families.

And two Mexican families.

One Japanese family.

One Filipino family.

And one African American family.

There is one family where a Filipino man is married to a Mexican woman.

One family where a Chinese woman is married to a Vietnamese man.

One family where an African American woman is married to a Caucasian man.

One family where a Caucasian man is married to an Indian woman.

And there is a homosexual couple who just moved in from Ohio.

Our children's pediatrician is African American.

Our children's pediatric dentist is Filipino.

Our dentist is Italian.

Our optometrist is Brazilian.

My husband's primary care physician is Mexican.

My primary care physician is Polish.

My hairdresser is Mexican.

My husband's former boss was a lesbian.

One of my husband's largest clients is a Native American Indian tribe.

My former boss was Mormon.

Our gardener is Mexican.

With the exception of our financial advisor, the only Caucasian people that we frequently interface with are the checkers and baggers at the grocery store.

"What's up homey?! Shore those goods up in paper, won't you please?!"

Because I have lived in several parts of the country and have been exposed to such diverse populations over my lifetime, I have learned about a lot of different cultures. And I have really enjoyed learning about these different cultures because they are so unlike my own and they usually serve up some amazing food.

In the course of my life, I have formed some opinions. And I try as hard as I might, to not make any broad sweeping over generalizations. Because I know that not all people, circumstances or situations are the same.

But my experiences are what create my reality.

My reality is that in general, people do not make comments as they pertain to a person's skin color, ethnicity or religion for fear that they will be perceived as prejudicial.

My reality is that people stumble and fall all over themselves in an attempt to remain politically correct and although I believe it is important to be respectful of people and cultures different from your own, it is fully acceptable to talk about those differences.

My reality is that people who have recently come to this country as immigrants, are among the hardest working people I've ever met.

My reality is that a lot of people, regardless of ethnicity, don't believe that rules apply to them and they have a sense of entitlement, unjustified superiority and are terrible drivers.

My reality is that a lot of people, regardless of ethnicity, are wholesome, beautiful, caring, compassionate souls and I strive to be more like them.

My reality is that the homosexual couples that I know that are raising families are among the most loving, wonderful people I've ever had the opportunity to meet and their children are lucky.

My reality is that Filipino and Mexican people are intensely proud of their heritage(s), they strive to be honorable and form strong communities and some of the tightness knit families I've ever witnessed.

My reality is that when I lived in the south, I noticed that there were higher levels of obesity and fried food consumption than anywhere else in the U.S. But I also grew to love Cajun chicken and biscuits unlike any food on earth.

My reality is that those people who most embrace their faith, were raised in that faith and the foundation of their beliefs run very deep. And sadly, I don't think that there is as much tolerance in this world as there should be.

My reality is that unlike other parts of the U.S., it can be very difficult to meet and get to know your neighbors in California. But once you know them, there is a good chance they'll become your friends for life. Even if you have opposing views on Prop 8.

My reality is that I love New York and almost all of the people I've ever met from that state. But try as I might, I can not understand why anyone would back the Yankees. (Oh, come on! I'm kidding!)

My reality is that the Mormon faith is downright inspirational considering all of the Mormon families I know have three or more children and don't drink wine.

Since we've become parents, Charlie and I have met a lot of people. It seems children have a way of drawing you out of your social shell and attracting you to people unlike anything else.

Maybe it is our need to feel like we are part of a community - or maybe we just generate a lot of attention wherever we go. But whatever the case, we have developed a very solid network of friends with similarly aged children. Our friends - and subsequently, our children's friends - hail from very diverse backgrounds.

In interacting with different families, we see how they are raising their children. Some of their parental techniques might be dictated by traditional cultural influence. Some techniques might be dictated by modernism. We borrow ideas that we think might apply for our circumstances. And we try not to judge people's parenting methodologies.

But sometimes, we do.

Our children's Montessori school is run by a woman who is Mexican. With the exception of the food policy (or lack thereof), it is my conclusion that this school adheres to the Montessori philosophy.

Our children's Montessori school frequently serves snacks that consist of brownies, cream filled chocolate cookies and Fruit Loops. They condone birthday parties where donuts and goody bags filled with candy are distributed to all the students in the class.

They had a Halloween parade with a piƱata.

In a post that I wrote yesterday I said, "I believe that the emphasis on "healthy" nutrition is not as advanced in Mexico as it is in other parts of the world."

I'm not surprised that someone left me a comment on that post in which they told me that my opinion regarding Hispanics was ignorant. In general, sweeping terms, I would totally agree that my comment would appear ignorant and unjustified. In fact, in looking at how I prefaced this statement, it does seem inappropriate. So to anyone that might have been offended, I apologize.


In this particular case. In this particular geographic location. With this particular school. With this particular student body. And this particular administration. The comment that I made appears to be the only logical explanation.

When a school subscribes to the Montessori philosophy, except in the way of nutrition, what other conclusion should I draw? Is the school trying to save a buck by serving up snacks that have no nutritional value? Is the administration just plain lazy? Is it of any relevance at all, that the teachers and over 90% of the student body are Mexican?

Personally, I believe it is.

Although, I also believe that people of any ethnicity can and do feed their children food that is loaded in sugar or devoid of nutritional value.

In recent years, there have been a lot of Mexican families that have fled in to the United States (and our neighborhood) to escape kidnappers in Tijuana. Random individuals have been targeted for kidnappings and held hostage until their families can come up with ransom.

I personally know two people that have been affected by this horrific variety of crime. My hairdresser's brother-in-law lost his hand when the family could not come up with $25,000.00 and a neighbor lost her husband when the family did not come up with money fast enough.

To be ignorant is to lack knowledge.

I know that a few of the students that attend Montessori with our children have recently fled to the U.S. from Mexico.

I know that a few of the children still live in Mexico and are driven up to school everyday.

I know that the Director has told me that she has not wanted to offend anyone who wants to bring treats to school, so she has endorsed them to do so.

I know that the Director has further told me that she serves the food that she does because the majority of children will eat it and it is comparable to the food that the parents pack in their lunch boxes.

The majority of the children happen to be of Mexican descent.

For all I know, the majority of children live on restricted sugar diet and are being sent to school with hummus and pita bread. But that would not be consistent with what the Director has told me, nor what I have seen coming home in my own children's lunch boxes from the parties that they are having at school.

There are studies showing that good nutrition is directly linked to poverty levels. And the fact is, Mexico is a third world country. And even though many of the families may be well educated and have the financial means to send their children to Montessori, I do not believe that they are embracing a healthy nutritional lifestyle.

I don't know, but I suspect that the school has ties and a history with several of the families that send their children to Montessori and they do not want to lose that support.

It is my opinion, that in this particular case, the culture of the people running the school trumps the culture of the Montessori philosophy. I believe that understanding the culture of any entity that runs a school - or business - or church, lends a degree of insight as to why things might be done the way that they are.

I also know that our Montessori has obtained a license in order to operate in California and there are regulations governing preschool facilities. And although it is not my intention to rock the boat, I do believe it is necessary to find out whether or not our school is in compliance with State requirements.

Because although I know what food is being served to the children, there are some parents who may not. And if I had a child in the toddler room, I would absolutely want to know that just this morning, they were served Cocoa Puffs.

Now because I am mentally depleted from writing this post - which I've been thinking about all day - I am going to go indulge on something sweet.

My husband perhaps, since he just came home.


  1. Jen, your statement was not a sweeping over-generalization. It's medical fact. Here's a study I was reading just the other day:

    Race/Ethnic Issues in Obesity and Obesity-Related Comorbidities
    Nicole Cossrow and Bonita Falkner
    Department of Medicine/Nephrology, Thomas Jefferson University (B.F.), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107; and IMS Health (N.C.), Blue Bell, Pennsylvania 19422

    Address all correspondence and requests for reprints to: Bonita Falkner, M.D., Division of Nephrology, Thomas Jefferson University, 833 Chestnut Street, Suite 700, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107. E-mail:

    The prevalence of obesity is increasing among all age and racial groups in the United States. There is, however, a disproportionate rise in the prevalence of obesity among African-Americans and Hispanic/Mexican Americans. Obesity is a major contributor to the insulin resistant syndrome (IRS), a condition of multiple metabolic abnormalities that is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, and confers a high risk for cardiovascular events. The estimated prevalence of IRS is also greater in Mexican Americans and African-Americans than in Caucasians. The IRS is identifiable in children, and as with adults, there are racial differences in its expression even at a young age. The obesity-associated diseases, including diabetes and hypertension, are found at higher rates within the minority races compared with Caucasians. However, there are differences, in that obesity-related hypertension occurs at higher rates among African-Americans, and obesity-related diabetes occurs at higher rates among Mexican Americans. Race/ethnic differences in lifestyle behaviors and economic disadvantage may account for some of the race disparity in obesity-related diseases and disease outcomes. Environmental factors, however, do not explain all of the race disparity in disease expression, indicating that there are genetic/molecular factors that are operational as well.

    I can find a hundred other studies just like it. There IS a cultural difference in eating. That's a fact and no one can dispute that.

  2. P. S. I KNEW you were going to get slammed for that. Shhhh.... don't talk about a looming medical crisis in our country. We need educational nutition programs targeting the minorities at greatest risk.

  3. Jen, I'm glad you wrote this post. Generalizations are only damaging when they're not based on a genuine trend (and as Michele S said above, can sometimes be helpful in cases for example with research or intervertion). By their very definition social and cultural groups DO have differences and it's not (necessarily) wrong to notice them, though what you do with those observations is a more sensitive issue.

    I hope you find a solution with your sugar dilemma. (And by the way, your street sounds terrific - so much diversity! Your kids are going to have such a good understanding of other cultures. Are they picking up any Spanish from their classmates?)

  4. You've hit that nail fair and square on that particular head. I thought it was a really well considered and thought out arguement. The question is..... What do you do with it?

    It is very hard to have a discussion through other peoples cultural vision of the world and if that person is unable to decentre as well as you can it can be very frustrating. You have the abilty to see the world from others point of veiw, even if you don't agree with it. That is a rare skill because some people would rather live with their own certainty than put themselves in anothers shoes just to see where they are coming from.

    A directress should be able to do this, I see the head of my school doing it on a daily basis and sometimes a compromise has to be the solution because otherwise there is no way forward. But, and it is a big but, there are issues on which she never gives way on and her biggest, funilly enough is food. Only the other way around. We have to have bananas at school because it is the only fruit one child will eat and our snack is always a peice of fruit. His mother offered to make healthy biscuits every day! There was no compromise - fruit or nothing. We live in hope that one day he'll try and apple!

    Obviously the cultural filter that your directress veiws the world is stronger than her abilty to look at the world from any other point of veiw, even after all her training. That would worry me. I would want to see the girls classrooms in action and then I think I would know what I wanted to do.

    Thank you for putting such a coherent and intellegent arguement out here for all to read.

  5. An interesting fact about obesity and eating habits in immigrants from Latin America is that the immigrant generation actually tend to be eat more fruits and vegetables and be generally healthier (have less obesity) than their first generation children. The longer immigrants live in the US, the worse their health tends to be, mirroring the health of the average american. This is referred to in the medical literature as the 'immigrant paradox'. There are other confounding variables like socio-economic status that do change the stats a bit. I find the whole thing so depressing, 25% of american children are overweight and last year the American Association of Pediatrics officially suggested that children as young as 8 with high cholesterol should be put on cholesterol lowering meds. I know that many of these children live in neighborhoods where it is not safe to play outside. So, poor nutrition is only one part of the equation. Some schools have also done away with recess. So sad.

  6. I've been wondering for a few weeks now how you feel about the intolerance shown to those who supported Prop 8. I don't live in CA but I keep hearing horrible stories of boycots, resignations, rioting, picketing, trespassing, vandalizing -- targeting those (usually very religious) who supported the prop. Since you were opposed and are obviously very tolerant of both sides, what do you think? Why is that happening? No matter how you feel, I'd love to hear. Good post, btw. I love that you are a deep-thinker despite wrangling small children all day...

  7. As someone who was raised in South Texas and who currently lives in a suburb of Houston (which is a city with a massive Hispanic population), you are absolutely correct in your statement. It is shocking to me the number of Hispanic toddlers who sit in strollers at the mall drinking bottles of soda. You can go to the mall anytime of the day or night and see MANY Hispanic children doing this. The number of Hispanic women I have seen feeding a newborn/small baby a full bottle of juice is staggering. Apparently, teeth issues are huge with Hispanic children (I have read about this in our local paper)...and it is completely common here to see a Hispanic child with many silver teeth. It just happens to be a fact of their culture, you weren't being ugly, just stating something you have found to be true.

    Glad Charlie is home. My hubby is off for vacation the next 2 weeks and I am giddy just thinking about having full-time help for 14 straight days!


  8. Well don't feel bad. We used to live in a Mexican neighborhood in D.C. and we loved to shop on the market near our house. The babyfood aisle was filled with candy treats. We loved our neighbors and got to know them well...and yes their idea of nutrition were different from mine. I was appalled at the snacks that would be offered to my (at the time) 9 month old, by my favorite neighbors, lol.

  9. I'm back AGAIN. I read the other comments and I think you need to do some research, print out the studies and bring them in to the director. I think it's your responsibility to educate this woman. The choices she teaches these Hispanic children about food will stay with them for the rest of their lives. You are in a postion to have an effect on a lot of children.

  10. Thanks for sharing. Coming from a very dominantly caucasion area, I did not really think deeply about these things. I do see a lack of knowledge about nutrition here in those who are uneducated/lower incomes, regardless of race/ethnicity.

    We have social health care system here in Canada. It makes me so sad and upset to think that obesity (and it's many complications), smoking, and excessive drinking cause a huge strain on our system. For those of us who are educated and make wiser decisions about what we eat/choose to do, it is hard to see little kids falling into the same bad habits as their parents.

    Education is key...your director is scared of confrontation with the parents yet it is so the right thing to do!!

  11. When I taught at a private school in Europe and in my current district the administration imposed a no junk food policy. For all the commotion it caused in the community as a teacher I def. noticed the difference over a few weeks.
    They just stopped selling crap next to the cafeteria. Parents were asked not to send junk food to school for the kids. Some did but not for other kids and for class parties we organized what would be brought. I admit I gave them a mini chocolate bar for hallowe'en but even that had to be peanut free which all food coming into our school is supposed to be. Anyhoo if they could do this in the largest district in BC and in a private school where it costs 15,000 euros a year then I think your parent group or what we call PAC here could organize such an initative. Is there one?

    In Canada we don't bring treats for birthdays. When I lived in Peoria it was considered the norm and it was always doughnuts. That was very odd to us and we didn't. I think mum sent carrot muffins to my younger sister's class the year we were there. It has never happened since.
    We do have the pop companies give our athletic department $$ and up until this year that company product offered in the school. The machines are there but have their version of bottled water. I wonder how many parents are aware of the underhanded marketing that occurs as well to supplement funding.

  12. Sandy (ann arbor)11/21/08, 11:49 AM

    Yeah! Charlie's home!

  13. I am latina, and have lived in both Mexico and Brazil, and can tell you that people definitely eat a lot more sweets. They also eat more healthily (home-cooked, fresh food) in general though, so it balances out. Something about processed food in the US? I don't know, but every time I got there I lose a few pounds. It drives me crazy.

    It's entirely possible that hispanics in the US have the unhealthier diet that is common in the states AND keep the addiction to sweets - bad combo!

    I think it's amazing that your kids have so much diversity in their lives. It will serve them well for the rest of their lives to be used to interacting with all kinds of people!

  14. Very good post and I'm so glad Charlie is home! Enjoy!

  15. Hi, I'm a lurker coming out of hiding to comment on this issue. I love your blog...especially your favorite things friday. :-)
    As you said you are going against a cultural issue so I would say maybe you should start slowly and maybe pick one thing you think should be changed, either everyday snacks the school provides or the birthday treats and see if you can get just one of those things changed for now. Since it could be a culture issue it may be difficult to make a radical change all at once. Just an outsiders kids in preschool yet so I may not know what I'm talking about. ;-)

  16. Hi! I woke up this morning with the intention to find a new picture to paint. When I searched for a pic I came across the one of you son drinking water off of the ground. I just now realized that I have spent about 3 hours sitting here reading. O.o :D You have a wonderful family! You seem very realistic and down to earth. (Sort of my idea of what an American should be.)

    As far as this whole thing about studies goes... (I have to find the articles and get back to you.) I recently read two in a science mag that discussed how they were studying genetics to learn more about obesity. Basically it talked about how we live and eat now. (sedentary lifestyles with junk food.) And how our ancestors lived (migrant, hunter/gatherer types.) More Recently in the last few hundred years - Native American tribes have sky rocketing obesity and diabetes levels. When they were forced into territories the military gave them crap food like flour and lard and they did not really know what to do with it. (Hence things like the Oklahoma funnel cakes and elephant ears at the fair.) Also... Like in my family we have a wheat/gluten and lactose intolerance. My ancestors were Irish and Scottish and lived primarily on things like potatoes and if at ALL they drank milk after infancy it was sheep or goats milk.

    At any rate! You're awesome! :)

    Thanks for posting yourself! (I think I would be scared/shy to do that myself...)

  17. Or you could get yourself to Trader Joes because the Peppermint Joe-Joes are here!!!

    P.S. Security word is outess. True dat.

  18. I would NOT be okay with my babies eating coco puffs!

  19. Jen,
    I found your blog through a friends and read it frequently but have never commented. I wanted to this time because I run the food service department for a public school district in California and can really relate to a lot of your recent posts about your children's school nutrition. Since I work for a public district we follow the guidelines set by the California and Federal government, and the types of snacks your children are getting served in school would not be allowed. I'm not sure what the rules are for a private preschool, it likely depends on whether or not they receive any government funding. You may be able to find out by looking on the CDE's website
    but the quickest way to find out would probably be to call or e-mail them, the contact info is all on the website. I'm constantly defending school nutrition programs from getting blamed for problems that often stem from what kids are bringing from home and it's frustrating to hear that there are still school programs, private or otherwise, that don't understand what an important part proper nutrition plays in a child's development. Oh, and about your generalization about cultural nutritional differences, it may not be the most PC thing to say, but I see it everyday.

  20. Jen, I absolutely LIVE for reading your blog. Not sure if you remember me, but I'm from Carolyn's Boards... I've been reading your blog every day for 2 years and you are nothing short of creative, funny, VERY INTELLIGENT, caring and most of all HONEST! Keep up this awesome stuff - You're blog could make money as a book!!!

  21. Jen, I think you should make a fuss about it and report this. It's for the health of not only your beauties but for the other children. They deserve much, much more from this school and this director rather than just a *shrug*, no matter what their heritage. I am in Romania right now as an expat and am appauled at the locals inability to make a fuss about anything, I'm sick of the "such is life" b.s. When someone (ie yes, this could be me ;-)) makes a comment or suggests a change, it's shocking. Why? Why should we not EXPECT more from people? Why should we not EXPECT people to whole heartedly CARE? We should, and we should keep trying until they do. Even if it's just one person today, it can be another tomorrow.