So each Winter Concert there has always been at least one Christian Holiday song. That might bother some atheist parents. Surprisingly enough, it hasn't really bothered me. Maybe because I once loved and cherished those songs. The two that seem to appear each year is "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger". Usually the kindergarten children play the hand bells along to them. I think it's sweet and they are rather easy songs. I can see why the music teacher selected those two songs for the youngest students in the school.
This year, their music program was called, 'Paint the Town December'. For the past two months, I heard my children sing the songs they were learning at school while they played at home. Based on the songs they were singing, it was going to be a wonderfully diverse program.
We arrived at the auditorium and took our seats. The 5th grade band played "Jingle Bells" and the older children sang some songs. Then the kindergarten children took the stage and played "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Away in a Manger" on the hand bells.
So far, it had matched each Concert that the school had put on since my children started attending there three years ago.
The first through fifth graders started walking down the aisle towards the stage and were looking around for their parents and waving when they found them. Parents were standing up trying to get their students attention. I was trying to locate each of my children so I knew where to look during the performance.
Once the students were settled and ready to go, they started with a non-religious song called "Paint the Town December", and it was really sweet.
From that point on, the Winter Concert became something other than what it should have been. I couldn't believe how many racist stereotypes were blended into something that I was expecting to be so very diverse.
As the children with speaking parts took the stage dressed in berets, white painter smocks and thin mustaches, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Their role in the Concert/Play was the painters. They were walking from store front to store front offering to paint the windows in the town with holiday themes. (Paint the town December, ah, I get it.) But every time one of the students opened their mouths to speak, a thick, stereotypical French accent came out. I glanced at my husband and he gave me a look that said, "Give it time, maybe they just missed the mark on this part."
I wish it had stopped there. I really do. But every time they represented any culture or people who weren't Caucasian Christians, their portrayals were steeped in stereotypes.
The next song was a Hanukkah song. The children with speaking parts came out with yarmulkes and side curls. They spoke with heavy Yiddish/Hebrew accents.
Then it was time for Kwanzaa... Same deal. Offensive stereotypical accents and garb.
Even the secular song, "Up on the Roof Top" ended with a little boy yelling, "God bless us, everyone." You would think that would have been the only moment to offend someone who is atheist. Nope. They kept going.
Next, they had a little girl in a hijab walk out on stage. She spoke briefly about Ramadan. They didn't make her speak in a heavy accent. But they also had no song. Granted, Ramadan was celebrated in July this past year, and only rarely falls in December, (last time was in 1999 and the next time will be 2030), but I could see how they were trying to touch on as many religious holidays as possible, even if it meant leaving out a few that actually are celebrated every December. (Chalica, Human Light, Saturnalia...)
I am from Southern California, an area that is alive with the wonderful Hispanic Culture of so many different races. So when the children were setting up for the song, "Las Posadas", I was cringing before they even opened their mouths to speak.
The children were wearing over sized sombreros and ponchos that were made from small area rugs with holes cut in them for their heads to fit through. The fake accents were sloppy and offensive and I couldn't believe how the entire performance was riddled with pigeonholing and stereotypes.
Well, almost the entire performance. The one song that wasn't misconstrued by ignorant backwards thinking was the song that represented Christmas. The song was 'Shepherd Boy' and the children spoke in their normal accents, which weren't as 'country' or 'Southern' as they could have been. Or even should have been considering the running theme. They were reverent, soft and respectful. Did the store owner come out in a wife beater holding a shotgun? Nope. Did the children with speaking parts have bright white teeth and tans or speak like Valley Girls? Nope. They were just average, normal sounding children. There were a lot of American accents and stereotypes they could have chosen from. But because it represented THEM (mostly the person in charge of the performance, considering these are primary school children). It was something she could relate to, something that seemed 'normal' to her.
By the end of the performance, I was racking my brain for ways to un-educate my children who were obviously miseducated about so many wonderful cultures and so many different religions. We had already been celebrating Hanukkah, so I know that would be something that I had already, recently, put the foundations for in place.
I was so disappointed. I went in with such high expectations of diversity and well represented cultures and religions and I walked away with such a bitter taste from the pigeonholing that only stopped for a brief moment when the children sang a song that represented the majority of the school, and the music teacher.
I wanted to write a letter to the school, but I don't even know where to start. I loved the premise, I hated the execution. I wasn't planning on making my children's Winter Concert into a huge learning lesson at home, but now I know I must.