I live and write on Lingít Aaní, and gratefully acknowledge the past, present and future caretakers of this beautiful place, the Jilkaat Kwaan and Jilkoot Kwaan.

With all that’s in the news, and yesterday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I have been thinking about the ways we teach our children, accidentally and on purpose. So much of how we feel toward other races, nationalities, religions, languages– cultures– other than our own, is learned at home. All parents home school their children’s hearts, don’t they?

I, like many other parents of young children in the post-civil rights era of the 80s and 90s that I knew, didn’t talk about, or even think too much about race or white American privilege. Now everyone is, it seems. That’s one good thing about these days we are living in.

Luckily, my young, and at the time all-white children (there were four  pink blondes then, before the fifth arrived with her brown skin and dark hair), would soon be exposed to a whole new world thanks to a Honduran teenager who would live with us for a year.

Through a mistake that is too long to explain now, but the quick version is that the local AFS exchange program needed host families and there were no high school students who were able to host a girl from Sweden that was already on her way to Haines. She liked to downhill ski and spoke fluent English. So an over eager AFS officer accidentally signed us up. It’s a small town, he knew us, and yes, we had expressed an interest in the program when our children were older,  but…

Anyway, Lynn arrived, and was not happy to be in tiny Haines, or in our home with four small children (ages 3-8 or so). She was miserable. After we showed her around town she asked where the rest of Haines was, and when we said there wasn’t anymore, she asked what about the disco, and the ski area? There aren’t any. She locked herself in her room and cried. The Southeast Alaska State Fair week arrived, the busiest, most fun-filled  time of the year, and she remained non-plussed. That’s when the AFS officer decided to send her to Juneau, and sent Mario from Honduras  to live with us in Haines.

The short happy ending to this story is that because my children met Mario when they were so young, and because he was so    good natured and generous, they learned that people who look different than they do, eat different foods, speak with accents, or are struggling to learn a language, have much to share. Mario enriched our household because of his differences, and he taught us how much we had in common, as well. Looking back, I realize how very, very, lucky we were that Mario showed up  when he did, during these formative years, and how much I owe him for the lasting lessons his presence in our home instilled in my children, ones that they are now teaching theirs.