“Papa, can you tell me that story again about the big ships?”
Maya is four years old, and she loves to hear stories. They can be about the gospel. They can be historical. They can be made up. They can be completely outrageous.
They don’t even have to have a happy ending.
Telling the Whole Story
As young parents, my wife and I have decided to be as open and honest with our daughter as possible. We want Maya to know that she is deeply loved—by her family, by her friends, and by Jesus. But we also feel compelled to expose the brokenness inside of us, in our family tree, and in the world around us. We find that stories are the best medium.
So, as is our custom on the way to preschool in the morning, she asks me to tell her an epic story. This time she’s asking me to recall the tale of how European people came to this continent, how the Native population became so scarce, and how she can begin to reconcile her identity as a multiracial being—“Puerto Rican and White and a little bit Cherokee,” in her words.
In my story, indigenous Tainos clash with Spanish explorers in the Caribbean. Later, Cherokee Indians clash with English colonists on the American frontier. Finally, all four people groups come together to clash one more time, in a bundle of DNA that I call my daughter. This perplexes both of us.
Maya’s Part in the Story
I want Maya to come to appreciate each and every piece of her rich cultural heritage. To savor the piononos and lechón of the island of enchantment, to embrace the Spanish language of the conquistadores, to wear proudly the Native bone structure in her face, and, yes, to positively identify with her Whiteness. If all of these identities can be reconciled in the heart of one young girl, where else might reconciliation be possible?
As Maya reconciles her own identity, maybe she will begin to see the unique ways she was crafted in the image of God to display his glory. And as she journeys with Jesus to a place of wholeness, maybe she will begin to recognize and call out that image in others. Maybe she can become a prophetic agent of reconciliation. Our God is in the business of restoring all things, among every nation, tribe, people, and language. Where might he be calling her to bring restoration, in a way that she alone is uniquely designed to do?
“Papa, you’re crazy!” she’d say.
It’s an exciting vision I have for my daughter, though I know that it’s not without struggle. She will be told that race doesn’t matter, that prejudice and privilege are things of the past. She will be encouraged to become “colorblind” and “tolerant” in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic society. She will be labeled “too sensitive” and asked, “What’s the big deal?”
Our Part in the Story
There’s a road in downtown Orlando called Division Avenue. It was the literal boundary between the White community and the Black community during times of segregation. Blacks were not allowed to cross Division Avenue after 6 p.m. without an issued permit. The laws have changed since then, but sadly, lines like these continue to serve their original purpose in our city.
So what can I do about this? Well, right now I’m teaching my daughter about her culture—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m showing her where God’s character shows up and where humanity’s brokenness takes over. And I’m asking that Jesus would use her to continue to destroy the dividing walls of hostility that define and divide us.
What can you do? How might God be calling you to embrace your identity, ethnically and in Christ, to accomplish his work of reconciliation?
Wes Foster and Denisse Foster are on staff with InterVarsity in Orlando, Florida. Wes (White/Native American) serves students at a community college, while Denisse (second-generation Puerto Rican) serves Latino students. Their daughter, Maya (4), wants to be a missionary-doctor-veterinarian-mom when she grows up. You can follow Wes on Twitteror e-mail him at wes dot foster at ivcfl dot com.