Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's a Small World

When we asked our kids what they liked best about Disney, one of the things my son mentioned was the "It's a Small World" ride.  My husband and I both laughed, given how dated the ride is, how old the animatronics are, how stereotyped the countries are.  We joked about the parts of Disney we thought could use some updating, this included.  But on the other hand, I can see why: it's a simple, happy version of the world all in one place.

We spent a fair amount of time at Epcot this year (which I now know means Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), not so much in the "space age" section, but walking around the world showcase, appreciating the replica architecture, visiting tiny museums, listening to people speak in different languages.  As my son colored in a character at one of the Kidcot stops where they wrote his name in Japanese, I found myself thinking about the first time I started to appreciate the world outside of my immediate family (which was, admittedly, pretty global, with bits scattered in Spain, Guatemala, Puerto Rico).  I'd been exposed to lots of other languages, and I watched my share of the news, but I think the first time the world became real to me was some time in the fourth grade, when I met Nana.

Nana was a Japanese student who came to the U.S. knowing almost (or so it seemed to me) no English.  She spent most of the day elsewhere in the school in ESL and other classes, but when she was in my regular classroom, my teacher had assigned her to me: I was supposed to help her figure out what we were doing, where we were in the textbook, how to do the seatwork.

I'm not sure I did a very good job of all of that, but I do remember Nana teaching me to write my name in Japanese, and I thinking that it was pretty cool to be able to write with an entirely different alphabet.  We also spent hours looking at her school supplies (things like her pencil case, which I think now must have been a Picachu prototype), and talking in our limited way about clothes, and doing the things that kids do when they discover another culture.

from dadsguidetodw, because my pictures aren't as good
Nana didn't stay long in my classroom--they never did tell us where she went--but I think now about how much more cosmopolitan my kids are, how they haven't even traveled as much as I had, but they have children--not just second or third generation but recent immigrants--in their classrooms from all over the globe.  And it does feel like a small world to them, a world in which you can connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time, across boundaries of geography and culture.

My son and I returned to Epcot on the last night for the fireworks show, a special holiday edition featuring children singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin With Me," and Disney Imagineers know what they're doing: if anything left you feeling inspired to go do good in the world, that was it.  I hope that the spirit of common humanity and shared experience can, in fact, unite all of us this holiday season, remind us that we're not just colored splotches on a map but real human beings, and that we have a responsibility to take care of each other. Because it really is a small world, after all.
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  1. Now I'm having my own trip down memory lane. The "It's a small world" ride is one that I've always wondered how it would be perceived from someone from another country. But I hadn't thought about the world showcase.

    Glad your trip to DW was a lovely one.

  2. That was always one of my favorite rides too! Glad you had a good trip. We need to start planning a trip to DW soon, I think the kids are at a good age.


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