I was four years old when Superman first saved my life.
I was wide-eyed, foreign and very misunderstood. Whisked away from my happy Icelandic childhood where friends spoke the same language as they played in the streets. I found myself in Minnesota, feeling like young Kal-El, an immigrant on an alien planet.
One day I broke my mother’s heart. I’m sure it must’ve made her exhausted grad student heart sink when I asked her with confused puppy dog eyes,
“Mom, why doesn’t anybody understand what I’m saying?”
The language barrier isn’t a term a four-year-old understands, but luckily, superheroes were there to save me. A homemade Superman costume would become the most important gift my parents would give me. When you dress up as Superman, everybody understands who you are. Language becomes irrelevant when happy children play charades.
When you’re Superman, you’re one of the good guys. You stand for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” and that was a positive experience for a four-year-old. Even if Bush Sr was busy deflowering the Persian Gulf at the same time.
While moonlighting as Superman, I also attended pre-school. Because I still didn’t understand the language, I was a disruptive child. So disruptive that the school authorities thought it wise to book a child psychologist to figure out what could be wrong with me.
My mother, a first-time mom, and coming from a background of undeniable faith in the European social welfare system may have worried that there might, in fact, be something wrong with me. So she agreed. However, due to the glorious efficiency of the American healthcare system, we had to wait a while for the earliest appointment.
During that time I kept flying off the swing as Superman. I trained on the monkey bars as Robin the Boy Wonder. I studied the mystic arts of the Ninja Turtles.
My parents mentored me along the way, helping out in any way she could. My mom was the Mother Box come to life, translating everything I needed to explain myself to the other kids.
How do you say this in English? This.
How do you say that in English? That.
How do you say OK in English? Oh…Ok.
Then the day arrived. My boss battle. My showdown with my personal supervillain, the Child Psychologist.
I was ready. As soon as The Psychologist arrived, I had already won. The Psychologist smelled defeat and noticed immediately that something was off.
You see, while we waited for my appointment, a switch had gone off in my brain. My superhero training made me fluent in the English language. So fluent that my disruptive behavior had all but vanished. The Psychologist couldn’t comprehend why the pre-school was wasting their time.
How was this little Superboy disruptive at all? He’s even helping all the other kids with their assignments!
Now imagine I wasn’t white.
Imagine if my disruptions weren’t in Icelandic, but in Spanish.
My interruptions may have provoked a different response. The school could’ve suspected my mother of something worse than just being an overachieving grad student. Instead of calling a child psychologist, the school could’ve called ICE.
Then, imagine a different future for that little boy. Instead of learning English, making friends and growing up with a magical memory of America, imagine him being torn away from his parents and thrown into a concentration camp.
Instead of the white privilege of being given the patience to learn how to adapt, he’d cry himself to sleep. Alone in a cage. Crying for his mom who fears she may never see her little superhero again.
That alternative universe isn’t so unreal for thousands of children today, and that reality should make you sick.
We need superheroes more than ever because we have super villains in office and stormtroopers on the streets.
If you’re ready to step up and become a superhero, please consider donating to any of these organizations:
The Florence Project provides free social and legal services to immigrants who are detained in Arizona and is currently looking for lawyers to take cases on pro bono.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). The Texas-based nonprofit aims to “directly fund the bond necessary to get parents out of detention and reunited with their children while awaiting court proceedings” and “ensure legal representation for EVERY child in Texas’ immigration courts.”
You don’t have to have Chrissy Teigen and John Legend money to be a superhero. The ACLU helps defend asylum-seeking immigrant parents who’ve been separated from their children.
There are many more worthy organizations to donate to that are looking for both money and assistance. Feel free to add them as a comment below.