being a teacher

Tonight, I am Afraid

I was born in Denmark; home of hygge, Lego, and Georg Jensen.  Home of Queen Margrethe the Second, of Barbie Girl, and The Little Mermaid.  I was born white.  My mother passed to me her blonde hair, her blue eyes, and her fierce determination for standing up for myself and others.

I came to America as an immigrant by choice when I was eighteen.  I did not have to flee a war.  I was not running from terror or persecution.  My family’s economic situation allowed us to come.  I have considered myself a Danish-American for the eighteen years since, forgetting about my Green Card, about my not quite Americanism, not thinking about how I am immigrant.

I don’t speak with an accent.  Most people are not even aware that I was not born here, nor raised.  I think in English, I dream in English, I even teach English, even though it has never been my first language and never will be.  And for the first time since coming to this country, I am afraid.  As an immigrant, I am afraid.

Logically I shouldn’t be; after all, I am not seen as an enemy.  I am not from one of the seven nations whose people have been banned from entering this country.  I am not a Muslim.  I am not someone whose people have been vilified for acts of a few.  My own inherent privilege has shielded me from so much.  I know this, and still…

As someone who holds a Green Card.  As someone who is waiting to be sworn in as a citizen, as someone who does not have the full protection of the law, I realized that the pit in my stomach that I felt today was not just of outrage, but of fear.  Because I am leaving for an international trip soon and for the first time ever, I have to consider whether I could be stopped from re-entering.  Would I be told to return to Denmark, my country of citizenship because of my beliefs?  Because of what I say?  After all, I am publicly speaking out against the policies that are being implemented.  I am not hiding my beliefs and I wonder if I should be?  I cannot help but wonder…

As I turned to my  America born husband today and told him of my fear, I felt so stupid.  Was this another sign of my white privilege assuming that even a sliver of what is happening around us has anything to do with me?   After all, the hatred, fear, and ignorance of those in power of this nation are not being directed toward people like me, it so rarely is, which that is a whole other post.  I expected him to tell me I was over thinking it, that I was being silly, that I needed to take a step back and breathe.  Instead he told me that he got it, that he knew logically that we probably have nothing to worry about but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.  We have already seen such extreme actions, what will be next?  After all, first they came for the Socialists…

So tonight, as I try to find resources to somehow have my students discuss these past few days’ events, without sharing my own thoughts,  I am trying to tell myself that I have nothing to fear.  That my trip will be fine.  That my re-entry will be nothing out of the ordinary.  I cannot fathom how all of those families must feel around the world as they don’t get to dismiss their fears as irrational.

This is my truth tonight and I am not quite sure why I am sharing it.  But there you go.

26 thoughts on “Tonight, I am Afraid”

  1. By sharing, you are sharing for those who cannot. By sharing, you are reminding all of us we need to pay attention. By sharing, you are becoming stronger. We are stronger when we share our thinking. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I understand your fear even though I am privileged in my white woman, born in America skin to not be afraid. I am afraid for my country, for my brown skinned students, for my biracial son in law. But I will stand with you, Pernillle and others that are afraid. I will resist! I will stand! I will not be silent! Thank you for your courage.

  3. You my friend are a treasure. I cannot pretend to understand your fear, but I do believe it is real. I hope by sharing your story, you find that you are not alone. My daughter and her family are in the Air Force . This month they are leaving for a 3 year deployment to Germany and I too am afraid. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

  4. Pernille, thanks for sharing your personal thoughts, especially today.
    I am a retired educator who loved working with children and their parents for 40 years. Your blog is always a delight to read.
    Today, I too am afraid. I immigrated from Germany during my senior year of high school, and I carry a green card. I am now afraid because the country I live in, with my great family, a wonderful life, and consider the US my home, has literally changed overnight. Everything is in chaos, changes minute by minute, Tweet by Tweet. Now, even New Americans with privilege like you and me, are no longer able to blend in, keep quiet, or celebrate our freedom from harassment. Our fellow “Americans”, new or still on their way here, need for all of us to speak up, stand up, and preserve decency, honesty and the values we hold dear – before it is too late.
    Wishing you strength,

  5. Tonight I went to a college hockey game and sat amongst a large group of international students. As the American National Anthem played I stood, put my hand over my heart, and really listened to the words. “The land of the free, and the home of the brave” I have seen so many brave people in the past week. We will all continue to work on the “land of the free” part. Tonight as I listened to the song that usually fills my heart with pride, I looked at the group of students around me and was ashamed. For the first time while listening to that beautiful song, I had to wipe tears from my eyes.

  6. You’re sharing it because, like many of us have realized, being complacent and assuming common sense will prevail does NOT work. And I am also speaking from a place of white privilege, but I am scared. Scared for my Muslim and LGBT family members, scared for the damage that can be done in four years if the first four days are any indication, and scared for the message we’re sending to our children and students. But it’s much broader than my little world so I’m scared for my fellow men and women……scared because I still haven’t figured out how to discuss the topic(s) with my students without “pushing” my own ideas on them. But I’m starting to realize that respect for others has always been my mantra as a teacher so to tip toe around it because all of a sudden it also seems to be associated with a political party doesn’t make sense. So thank you for sharing.

  7. This is touching. “Do not be afraid.” However I understand your fear. We all need to be fearful and strong.

  8. Afraid but hopeful – a judicial order turns back the order and individuals gathered to give power to a collective voice for reason. Each of us needs to exert influence and oppose anti-American sentiment in whatever form. Thanks Pernille for adding another face and voice to the value of diversity.

  9. I don’t feel your fears are irrational. It may be that you personally have nothing to fear, but it’s entirely reasonable to fear for the future of your country at the moment. The dilemma – whether to continue to believe that giving 100% to your challenging job is your civic duty, or whether to dissipate some of that energy by devoting some of it to political activism. There are no easy answers, and I’m struggling with the same issue myself here in the UK.

  10. I too am a descendent of an immigrant family. How far back are they talking about. I have not been able to sleep around this hate crime. It makes US no better than the terrorists who are true terrorists that impact our complete nation.

    It is affecting everyone, families, businesses, etc.


  11. I’m with you – sad and angry and fearful of what is happening to America, the elephant beside the country I chose.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing, we all need to find our voice and our passion fuels that voice. I am a 45 year old woman that has never had to fought for many of the liberties I enjoy (including my marriage) AND I find myself sick and struggling to find a way to make a difference.

    I am also finding it very hard to figure out how to talk to my 5th graders about what is happening in our country without showing my bias. How to talk to my classroom full of students that hold passionately to their own and families’ ideas of what is right and wrong, who should be allowed to come to our country and who should not in a community that voted primarily for a President but whose values I do not agree with. A community without much diversity yet we are seeing and hearing racial epitaphs slurred on our playground and in our bathrooms.

    I feel helpless and full of anxiety for our country and loved ones that are here legally yet are citizens of other countries. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and speaking out. As you find your voice, I have begun to find mine and for that spark from your blog post, I am grateful. LOVE TRUMPS HATE!!!

  13. I am not an immigrant, but I am making it a priority to get a passport–to be part of that historical data. I am afraid. There are too many echoes of the rise of the Third Reich…that the White House did not acknowledge 6 million Jews is telling. We are already speaking in veiled language as we speak out against absurdities and monstrosities.

  14. It’s understandable how you feel. Never in my life have I felt unsettled about our country’s leadership and our safety. My heart felt heavy as I viewed pictures and read about the refugees turned away from safe haven in America during WWII, many returning to unfathomable horrors and death in concentration camps. One photo reminded me of my daughter and I can’t help wondering what her future and the future of my students hold. I often think of my grandfather who fought in Germany in WWII and wonder what he would say about the same news articles I’m reading. We have J. Reiss, author of The Upstairs Room, visiting my grade level next month. In preparation we’ll read the novel, discuss what we notice and note, and I’ll answer kids’ questions about that God awful time as best I can. Are my students feeling that unease like I am? Yes, they are. If my 13 yr old daughter asked me out of the blue yesterday if we will have a WWIII and my 9 yr old daughter asks me questions about D. Trump daily, children and adults must feel a sense of insecurity. So when I read your post, even before coffee this morning, my heart goes out to you.

  15. Your perspective and fears described in lucid and rational terms needed to be voiced to the world- thank you!! It’s my hope that these extreme times will act as a crucible and force us as a country and as a species, to pull together and redefine who we are and what really matters. No more bickering and ignoring huge tracks of others. What do we really stand for and how should we behave? We all have a voice in this. Again, thank you.

  16. Pernille, I understand your fears and I, too, am at a loss as to how to address this in class without disrespecting the office of President of the U.S. These are very difficult times. My husband and I just scheduled a Mediterranean cruise this summer, and now I’m thinking we should cancel. By July, who knows how Americans will be perceived around the world? I’m having a very hard time being optimistic right now.

  17. Dear Pernille,
    Your thoughts and fears are respected and understood. You are admired and respected for who you are.

    I stand by you. Together we will stand arm and arm, speak the truth and do what is right.
    ~Suzy Leopold

  18. Thank you for sharing. There are so many of us who are afraid. The president’s actions don’t represent our America or our values.

  19. I cannot properly put into words how you inspire me each day. Your words always manage to help me put on a brave face, speak with honesty and humility, and be the best teacher I can be each day. Over the last few months, I have frequented your blog and stalked your Twitter feed, looking for answers to my tough questions (and I’ve had too many to reference).

    I’m in my tenth year of teaching, trying my best to be optimistic about my career, my faith in humanity, and the state of American education. I know when I am feeling low that I will find inspiration in your words. Thank you for having the gusto and faith to welcome so many into your life. I don’t think you can possibly fathom the breadth of your impact on teachers and students all over the world.

    Even the brave know fear, and you have every right to be afraid. Your global community stands with you. Thank you, Pernille.


  20. Keep sharing your truth Pernille, I enjoy reading your blog although I rarely comment because I don’t take the time. I don’t think I can be silent on social media any more. I am an educator just down the road from you – in Madison. I see fear and hear fear from my young students. They are too young to be this afraid of living in a country that has historically been proud of accepting all people from all backgrounds – even though this is what we do in public school each day. An acceptance of all people is what should be reflected by our government, Continue to help your students feel safe, proud and keep teaching them to think critically. Obviously, an ability to think clearly and critically is more important than ever. And, as you know – reading and writing will play nicely together to help you with that each day. Carry on!

  21. As a retired teacher of 41 years in both elementary and high school here in Montreal, I always enjoy reading your columns. You are a devoted teacher. As someone who left the US for other political reasons in 1970, I only wish I was still teaching so that together my students and I could let the light of reason shine on these recent dark measures and monitor what will come. Please continue to speak out. Your eloquence in needed. Your perspective important. As a fellow Canadian has said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen) God bless you.

  22. Very timely post. My daughter is planning to go on a service learning trip with a college professor inMarch. We just found out that her visa application was rejected because she had dual citizenship. I adopted her as a baby from Russia. She has a US passport and we successfully traveled to Russia 6 years ago with visas. Apparently when she turned 18 we were supposed to renounce her Russian citizenship. Who knew? So now we wait for a miracle of sorts to get this worked out and pray that re-entry will go smoothly. I, too, am fearful for my daughter.

  23. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so honestly. This is why I take the time to read your posts; you seem genuine and I admire your forthrightness. I am reminded of MLK, Jr.’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Perhaps you are inspired by those words as well.

  24. Thank you, Pernille, for supporting us all by posting your thoughts. Thank you for being an advocate for so many of us who either are not sure how to formulate our thoughts as articulately as you do or who are not sure how to overcome our fears enough to share them. Your posts and others like them allow us to know there are kindred spirits out there. With deep gratitude, Lisa

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