All my life, I’ve known immigrants and people of other races.

During my early childhood in Southern California, I attended a school where (depending on the year) one-third to one-half of my classmates were either immigrants themselves or born to immigrant parents. They came from Mexico, Egypt, Swaziland, and Japan – just to name the countries I can remember off the top of my head.

Almost every time we went to the mall or grocery store, I caught snatches of other languages: Spanish, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Arabic. And at church, my family sat in the pews next to black, Latino, Asian, and biracial families.

More importantly, we didn’t segregate ourselves from each other once we returned to the sanctum sanctorum of our homes. Our mothers had tea together, we attended each others’ sleepovers and birthday parties, our parents swapped childcare and took meals to each other when someone was sick.

Once my family moved to the rural South, things changed. My school was more than 99 percent white. I was gobsmacked by the casual way the students used racial slurs, and by the teachers’ failure to discipline them – or talk in any meaningful way about slavery, segregation, or civil rights. Teachers warned me against asking too many uncomfortable questions. When I asked classmates not to use racially offensive language around me, they doubled down instead.

College was a little better, and adulthood has been better still. Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of working, learning, and building friendships with amazing people from Serbia, India, Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Italy, Switzerland, Mongolia, China, Germany, and more. I also married into an immigrant family.

Without exception, every immigrant and refugee I’ve known through these experiences came to the U.S. for one or more of three reasons: freedom, safety, or a desire to make a better life for themselves and their family. That means these immigrants and refugees are some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met, and many of them are more devoted to the Constitution and its ideals than some of my fellow native-borns whose ancestors came here (ahem, as immigrants) from Northern Europe in the 1800s. Sacrificing everything to reach a destination will do that to you.

So it should make sense that I consider it a privilege to live and work with people of many races, nationalities, and backgrounds. As a result, I have more compassion, take fewer things for granted, and have a better understanding of just how big and amazing and wonderful our world and its citizens can be. I believe our communities and country are better when we welcome and connect (not just co-exist) with refugees and immigrants. There is so much we can learn from each other.

If you want to inspire the girls in your life to welcome and connect with refugees and immigrants, Inside Out and Back Again and The Librarian of Basra are two of my favorite choices. Various organizations have also compiled book lists to help. Here are just a few:

U.N. High Commission on Refugees

Click to access Children_Book_list.pdf

Colorin Colorado

Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services

What Do We Do All Day? (one mom’s blog about unplugged play for children)

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