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How kindergarten is an existential threat

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Volume 2: “A Certain Kind of Education.” We go back to where it all began: Morro Bay. Paulina shows Faith her hometown, where she recounts her childhood in a tight-knit family, lively parties and cutbacks in schooling.

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Last week, I did an informal poll of the LA Times. Very cordial:

Please use the emoji ✋ if you MISS the first day of kindergarten SO MUCH.

Please emoticon 🤏 if you remember how it feels, or how it feels, but don’t really remember the details.

Please use emoji 👎 if you don’t mind at all.

Of the 80 respondents, 8 said they clearly remember the first day of kindergarten, 22 said they remember how it felt, and 50 said they had no memory of that day.

A one-story building bearing the inscription "Del Mar . Elementary School"

When Paulina Stevens started kindergarten at Del Mar Elementary School in Morro Bay, California, it was the first time she spent significant time away from her family.

(Faith E. Pinho/Los Angeles Times)

Surprisingly, for such a landmark day in our early lives, the memory of it is almost as dimly familiar as the rest of our childhood memories. . I remember the energetic buzzing as parents dropped off their children and the small footsteps echoing in the concrete hallways but not much else.

For some children, the first day of kindergarten is their first exposure to a completely new environment outside of their familiar home life. It was an overwhelming experience for any child, but for Paulina Stevens, who had very little interaction with anyone outside of her family, it was an especially traumatic one.

The first day, I just cried all day, I remember, until the last moment when I was picked up from school.

— Paulina Stevens in “Foreshadowed”

Many children cry on the first day of school — some just in the morning, some all day. But Paulina wasn’t just crying from the shock of this new world. She is also carrying a secret.

The only thing before any school year is, “Don’t tell anyone you’re a gypsy.”

— Paulina Stevens in “Foreshadowed”

And so Paulina enjoyed a unique start in her education. Being a bicultural child myself, I can only imagine what family life would be like having a life at home that is so much different from what is expected at school, but cannot act. describe the embarrassment inevitably caused by being faced with two opposites. Paulina’s home life as a child was noisy and carefree, filled with family and parties. At school, Paulina had to line up, raise her hand and ask permission before going to the bathroom.

And perhaps this is why Paulina recalls her school years with mixed feelings.

Alicia Cameli with Paulina Stevens' arm

Paulina Stevens, right, reunited with her first grade teacher, Alicia Cameli, at Del Mar Elementary School in Morro Bay, Calif.

(Faith E. Pinho/Los Angeles Times)

On the one hand, she learned a lot and absorbed this new world with curiosity. One teacher remembers her as a creative student. She has a dream of becoming a veterinarian. But on the other hand, she is hiding herself, never being able to share and fully engage with others. She knows she will eventually be expelled, so what’s the use? Her curiosity will remain unsatisfied and her friendship is only on the surface. After sixth grade, she dropped out of school completely.

This is not unusual for traditional Romanian Americans. Many people pull their children out of formal public education to protect them from the invasive influence of society. gadje – outsider.

As we begin to find out in “Foreshadowed” Volume 1, gadje, or any non-Romanian, built over the centuries. In an effort to protect their communities and preserve their culture, Romanian parents instilled in their children an aversion to gadje. This week we learn about the concept sea, spiritual uncleanness.

You run the risk of contamination when you enter the non-Romanian world.… We think that not only are gadje unclean, but when we interact with them, we can also become unclean.

– Professor Ian Hancock in “Foreshadowed”

This uncleanness does not come only from contact with outsiders. Many things are possible sea, including food preparation and personal hygiene. This volume delves into how this concept evolved from a hygienic and spiritual practice into a way of life.

It is based on the idea that you can be physically unclean and you can also be mentally unclean. And you can remove physical uncleanness by bathing. But you can only deal with spiritual uncleanness by living a certain way of life.

– Professor Ian Hancock in “Foreshadowed”

Finally, avoid the situation seafood is a way to distinguish insiders from outsiders. Practice makes public schooling a minefield.

You can’t even eat food cooked by gadje. So what will the child do at lunchtime in the canteen? You are not allowed to sit next to a friend of the opposite sex in class. What will the kids do?

– Professor Ian Hancock in “Foreshadowed”

Of course, as with any spiritual or cultural practice, there are degrees of compliance. Paulina attended school for several years – as long as her family saw fit. She has one foot in one culture and one foot in another. Why couldn’t she comfortably continue that way until high school graduation and beyond? People from different minority cultures did this.

But they do it at a cost.

Send kids to an organization designed to teach them how to read, write, and fit into mainstream American society present an existential threat to a minority culture. The more time you spend reading the oath of allegiance, the less time you will have to learn Romanian at home, for example. Day after day, year after year, repeated contact with the mainstream will transform you until you change irrevocably.

Listening to Paulina’s childhood memories, I recall a way that I too have been forever changed by the power of assimilation and, in my case, childish laziness. I am 6 years old, and my mother went to a parent-student meeting. At home, I only speak Spanish, my first language. It’s exhausting to constantly switch from English at school to Spanish at home all day, but I have to do it because my mother doesn’t speak English.

Imagine my surprise when, on that fateful afternoon, she and my teacher conversed entirely in English without even asking me to translate.

I impatiently refused to answer in Spanish for years afterward, despite my mother’s grueling efforts. Now I speak Spanish in a light and remarkable way Tofu tone. I wish I had kept it as pure as it was when I was 6.

Sometimes I get emotional about it, thinking about how I could never fully express myself to my Sonora cousins ​​- I have no words to describe her character. me. I will always be separated from my family by the scars of assimilation. The idea of ​​returning to “homeland” made me feel the most insecurity. I have a permanent imposter syndrome for the culture I was born in.

So I get it. Children are very impressed. Languages, practices, and customs are only as powerful as people’s dedication to them.

But Spanish is still my primary language and my Mexican culture is not in danger of extinction. Romanian culture, with a much smaller population, is much more vulnerable.

I also think part of the story is the fear that the culture is being diluted, and what are you going to do about that and how do you preserve it?

— E. Pinho’s belief in “Foreshadowed”

Well, you keep it by being strict. And this may sound strange, maybe, but in our case, I believe in segregation. I know it’s a terrible word.

– Professor Ian Hancock in “Foreshadowed”

There is nuance here somewhere between an uncomfortable accused term like “segregation” and the idea of ​​shielding one’s descendants, who carry your cultural history, from assimilation and gradually erased.

Now, imagine yourself as a child, learning the joys of your culture, the only way of life you know, and then being taught to hide it from your peers. For what? You don’t know, but it feels bad. As a child, nuance and complexity are not fully documented, if at all. The effects are only understood emotionally, like in Paulina’s memory when she recounted what happened after a teacher came to her father and mentioned knowing their Romanian identity.

He told my mother. He said, “They know that we are gangsters, and you know, should we leave? Was it bad?” He didn’t really know, and then he was fine with it…. But I guess that initial moment, I guess, sparked a little bit of fear.

— Paulina Stevens in “Foreshadowed”

And so the discomfort of Paulina’s early upbringing was not just the restlessness of the first day of school or the growing pains of teenage life, but many things at once. A fear of discrimination. In danger of becoming seafood. A falling stone erodes Paulina’s dedication to the lifestyle she grew up in. But it is also the germ of change – and whether change is a culture of growth or a culture of erosion depends on who you ask.

— Jazmin Aguilera

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Go deeper

There is no monolithic “Romanian American experience”, not even in California – there are many of them. Author Oksana Marafioti shares how her recollections of coming to Los Angeles as a teenager led her to celebrate different parts of her legacy.

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