No One’s Home

Jorge has poured his heart and soul into the animal report Mrs. Khan assigned last month. In fact, he has poured his heart and soul into everything academic because his parents, who are from El Salvador and Nicaragua, have stressed the importance of getting an education. Prior to coming to the United States, his parents owned a restaurant in El Salvador. The restaurant did well until it was burned down during a fight between the local gangs. Penniless, his parents headed north to the United States to seek a better life. They landed in El Paso, Texas where they had Jorge. After a couple years as migrant workers throughout Texas, they moved in with his mom’s sister, Auntie Delmy, in Detroit, Michigan. They finally saved enough money to have a place of their own a year ago.

Jorge’s animal report is about the sea otter. Sea otters are energetic, playful, and smart. He picked the sea otter for his project because his mom calls him her “pequeña nutria” (little otter). It all started when he was playing in the bathtub a few years ago, rolling around and around in the water the way otters do in the ocean. This reminded Jorge’s mom of a book she’d seen called “Buenas Noches, Pequeña Nutria” (Good Night, Little Sea Otter) by Janet Halfmann. She bought that book for Jorge and has read it to him every night every since.

Well, not every night. Not the last seven nights. You see, his parents took him to stay with his Auntie Delmy last week. They said that they needed to take care of some important family business for a little while, and they will be back to get him later this month. That’s why they can’t bring his animal project to him at school.


Even though the Friends have different faith backgrounds, they all believe in love, kindness, and compassion.

May Li is Muslim, and Jorge is Christian. Muslims practice a religion called Islam, and Christians practice Christianity. The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an. For Christians, it’s the Bible. Muhammad plays a central role in Islam, just as Jesus does in Christianity. Muslims go to pray at mosques, and Christians pray in churches. In Islam, there is only one all-powerful being called Allah, and Christians refer to that being as God.

Despite these differences, both groups come from the same origin. Followers of both Islam and Christianity believe in the story of Abraham. As the different versions of the stories go, Abraham had two sons. Their names were Ishmael and Isaac, and Abraham had to sacrifice one of them to show God that he was faithful. Because Abraham took all the necessary steps to sacrifice his son, God allowed the son to live. Muslims believe the son to be sacrificed was Ishmael, while Jews and Christians believe him to be Isaac. Ishmael is sometimes called “Father of the Arabs,” and he became the leader of a people who later came to believe in Islam. Isaac is often called “Father of the Hebrews” because, like his brother Ishmael, he too became the leader of a people. Followers of Isaac are now thought to be those who believe in Christianity and Judaism.

Unlike May Li or Jorge, Dar practices no religion. Although Dar’s parents grew up Christian, their family does not practice Christianity. They consider themselves “culturally Christian.” This means they celebrate Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but they do not attend church or study the Bible.

Since May Li is young still, she does not fully understand what the Muslim faith means to her or how to practice it. Her parents, who both passed away when she was two, were religiously Muslim. This means they followed the laws of the religion of Islam as described in the Qur’an, such as those related to how and when to pray or what to eat. Grandfather, who is now raising May Li, has different beliefs. He was a religious, practicing Muslim when he was younger and is now “culturally Muslim,” just like Dar is “culturally Christian.”

Even though his own connection to Islam has changed since he was younger, Grandfather is very supportive of May Li’s interest in maintaining and practicing the faith her parents taught her. That’s why he bought her a purple prayer rug — her favorite color! — and makes time for her to perform her prayers when possible. In Islam, prayers are supposed to be performed five times a day throughout the day. For now, May Li prays just once a day before bedtime. It’s one special way for May Li to maintain a connection to her parents and the way she lived her life back in Myanmar.

I Need to Go!

Remember that time when you had to go to the bathroom so badly that you couldn’t think of anything else? Hold that thought. Now imagine that every time you have to go, a rush of anxiety washes over you because you have to use the bathroom of the other gender? Meaning, if you were a girl, you have to use the boys’ bathroom, or the other way around?

That’s how Dar has felt almost every day at school. You see, Dar was born a girl named Darlene. Ever since Dar could remember, Dar felt like they were born in the wrong body. In other words, Dar has the mind of a boy, but the body of a girl. Dar told their dad this last year, and their dad reassured them that they did not have a sickness or a disease. Dar was simply transgender. Dar felt such relief being able to name what they were feeling, and knowing that there were other people like Dar out there in the world — people who live life like everyone else.

Although it’s been easy for Dar and their dad to accept this truth, not everyone has put the time or effort into understanding Dar. At school, Dar’s homeroom teacher, Mrs. Khan, understands Dar the best. No one is unkind to Dar in Mrs. Khan’s class. In fact, no one is unkind to anyone in that class. Kindness is just what Mrs. Khan expects from students. But Dar doesn’t always feel safe with other teachers, and feels especially unsafe with the principal. Those adults don’t understand at all.

Other than Dar’s close friends, May Li and Jorge, the other kids at school behave like whichever adult is in charge of them. This means when the other kids are in Mrs. Khan’s class, they show Dar kindness and acceptance. When these same kids are unsupervised, or with other adults who don’t understand or accept Dar, then they tend to act like they don’t understand or accept Dar either. That’s the most frustrating part to Dar.

For the first time, Dar gathered enough courage this afternoon to use the restroom that matched their gender. Things did not go well. Some kids decided to take matters into their own hands, instead of asking a teacher or an adult for help. But they should know better than to pick on Dar. Dar will stand up for them self.

Go Home!

Bullies at May Li’s school tell her to “go home” because they view her as someone who doesn’t belong in the United States. In other words, they are telling her to go back to her country of origin. What they don’t understand is that May Li is a refugee. A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. May Li and Grandfather came to the United States from Myanmar, and are part of a community called the Rohingya. Myanmar doesn’t recognize the Rohingya people and thus provides no protection for them.

The Rohingya people are Muslim, while most of the people who live in Myanmar practice Buddhism. The Rohingya are persecuted, or experience hostility and ill treatment, in Myanmar because of their religious beliefs. As a result, May Li and Grandfather were not safe in their own country and were forced to leave Myanmar. The United States is their only home.

Bullies also tell Jorge to “go home,” despite the fact that Jorge was born in El Paso, Texas. The United States is the only home Jorge has ever known. Because he looks different from them and speaks Spanish when communicating with his family, the bullies assume Jorge’s home is in another country but that is not true.

The bullies pick on May Li and Jorge because they look or act differently than the bullies do. In other words, they are not “American.” But unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors are from somewhere outside the United States. Therefore no one, other than Native Americans, can claim to be more “American” than anyone else. As Jorge aptly noted, “Everyone belongs here.”

It is sad to see May Li and Jorge bullied, but it is heartening to see people like Dar stick up for May Li and be a true ally to her friend. Bullies will always exist, but they won’t win if we all stand up for each other.

What’s in a Name?

A person who comes from another country may have a name that is unfamiliar to someone living in the United States. Even though this person’s name may seem different or difficult, it’s important to call each person by their chosen name. That is because everyone’s name represents an important part of their identity. May Li is pronounced My Lee, not May Lee. This is very different from Mary. When they first met, Dar used the name Mary to try to build a connection with May Li, but that well-intentioned gesture is received differently by May Li. May Li likes her name and wants to be called by it.

Dar at the Women’s March

img_0166This is Dar. They are one of May Li’s best friends. They went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., with their dad. On that day there were similar marches in cities all around the world. These peaceful demonstrations drew millions of people, particularly women, to the streets in support of love and acceptance for all people. Lots of people who attended the marches had never been part of an event like this one, and that was true for Dar’s family too. Like many other marchers did, Dar wore Dar’s special Cat Hat. Dar and Dar’s dad felt glad they could be part of such an important day.