The Political education of our children: some thoughts on Something Fierce

I recently read the 2012 Canada Reads selection, SomethingFierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre and it got me thinking about my own politics. And consequently,  the job I am doing instilling a political consciousness in my own children.
If you haven’t read it, you should. It is a riveting, eye-opening revelation of a read. Darkly funny and deeply moving, Carmen Aguirre’s story was well worth re-telling.
For those of you who haven’t read it yet, it is Ms. Aguirre’s coming of age story in the Latin American Resistance during the late seventies and eighties. I had a very scant knowledge of the upheavals to the South during this period (though I knew about the U.S.’s penchant of setting up puppet governments), so her book served to school me as well as entertain me.
Entertain. That seems like such a trite word when I think of Ms. Aguirre’s experience. Her parents were supporters of Allende and when he was ousted by Pinochet in  a violent  coup, six-year old Carmen and her family found themselves exiled in Vancouver.  Five years later, her mother answered the call from the Chilean resistance for their supporters to return to Chile and help in the struggle against Pinochet. Carmen’s mother brought her children with her, an unusual move; most of the returned exiles would leave their children with relatives.

 They set up a safe house for resistance fighters in La Paz, Bolivia, where Carmen and her sister Ale spent the next few years. They also lived in Argentina, saw the troubles in Peru. Because their mother and her new husband Bob were blacklisted from Chile, the forays into their homeland were few.

She grew up with the constant fear of discovery, of torture, of the horror of armed insurrection. She also had to figure out how to balance her desire for a normal life with her political beliefs. As an older teenager, she decided of her own free will to join the resistance, taking the oath and continuing her double life.
And that is what got me thinking. her mother could have left her behind in Vancouver, to pursue the teenage life that most of us growing up in Canada enjoyed: that is, scarfing down burgers with our friends, our only worries centering around our groups of friends, boyfriends, parents that just don’t understand.In fact, the times she is in Vancouver she is also living a double-life with her insouciant classmates. When a classmate invites her to a kegger, she declines, saying she’s going to pick up an activist priest exiled from Latin America who is staying at her house and giving a talk. Wanna come, fellow classmate?

Umm, no thanks…

Don’t get me wrong, I was a very political teenager. I was an active member of Amnesty International and youth environment groups. I went to workshops on civil disobedience. I protested against clear cutting of old growth forests. I frequently yelled at my bourgeois mother.
But reading Something Fierce showed me what my tepid political involvement was at the time- window dressing, like the flannel shirts I wore, and my baggy jeans.

Oh, I believed in what I was doing. I felt it. In fact, the rage I felt when I realised the world wasn’t as easily fixed as I thought it could be still boils inside of me.

It’s simple, right? If people would just stop being such assholes, taking all the money, denying climate change, throwing acid on their women folk, the world would be a much nicer place.

And that’s it, my sense of justice, my political involvement, could all be reduced to a bumper sticker:

Stop being a Jerk.

Yeah, I know.

My oldest is thirteen right now and though we talk about the world at the dinner table, talk about what is right and what is wrong, it is never with a lot of conviction.

There is never any action. Take last night for example. She watched a french documentary entitled Sucre Noir(you can watch it online on the NFB) that really made an impression on her. She was full of that wide-eyed eager look people get when they just learned something new and must share their knowledge. It is all about the poor treatment of the workers on sugar cane plantations. She was stunned at the poor working conditions. The lack of health care and education The fact that girls had several kids at such a young age and that if one of their children got sick, there would be no doctor. If they died, the owners of the plantation would take the money for the funeral out of their wages. She was appalled.
And that is where it stayed. We all agreed. It was horrible. I mentioned that the sugar we buy comes from the same place. That by buying it we are supporting that system.
Her eyes glazed over and someone changed the subject.
My question is,  is it our jobs as parents to shape our children’s political consciousness? To set the bar with our own political involvement?
I think so. However, if there’s a grade for showing your children how to make a difference in the world politically speaking, I would fail miserably . I didn’t even go lend my support to the Occupy Movement, though I most definitely supported them.
I talk a lot about how my main goal in parenting is to raise citizens of the world- daughters who are engaged and interact with their community and that stand up and fight when they don’t agree.
Though I don’t think I will move my family across the world in order to join a resistance movement (that would be weird), after reading Something Fierce I was left with the very palpable feeling that I could be doing much more.
Now I just have to figure out what…

2 thoughts on “The Political education of our children: some thoughts on Something Fierce

  1. I wonder how one would address, with one's kids, the complications that could happen from standing up and fighting when they don't agree — that whole whistleblower thing. The fact that some whistleblowers lives are destroyed by standing up and speaking out. Comparing (using movies) Erin Brockovitch with The Insider, or what happens when one is defeated by a life of standing up and speaking out — for example, Canadian politician Tooker Gomberg.

    But then there are people like George Clooney, or Angelina Jolie, or Mia Farrow, who do help herald change. Well, maybe not change. Awareness. But then that is maybe glamourizing politics. Ugh. Complicated for sure.

  2. we all do something, and most of the time, are left doing it silently… let’s begin by valueing the non-corrupt, and begin to understand that this is truly a challenge in itself.

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