A Personal Story about Global Citizenship

By Cynthia Reiss, PhD

I was at Whole Foods yesterday with my daughter when I took this picture. The event, the site, and the audience responses provoked a slew of questions in my mind about globalization:

How do we know cultures? How do we understand cultures? Are the ways in which we “know” cultures real bridges to “understanding” cultures? How do we connect with others who are different from ourselves? How does having the sign located between the dancers and audience affect how one reads who represents “poverty?” As people watched, I wondered what they were intrigued by… The dance? The costumes?  Was it the “difference” from oneself? The music?  Or was it the concept of being able to alleviate poverty worldwide?

As we walked towards the entrance, there were other opportunities to participate: buying cupcakes or paying to spin a wheel so that kids could be busily involved and contribute $3 or $1.50 towards alleviating inequity in developing nations.

And then….on the opposite side of the parking lot, sitting by my car, was a homeless person soliciting funds for “Streetsheet” a newspaper about homelessness in Berkeley. There was such a jarring disconnect between the attention paid to “alleviating poverty worldwide” on one side of the parking lot –which both my daughter and I participated in—and the lack of attention this person was getting as all he seemed to represent was an “individual poverty” not a “global poverty.”

For some, it’s a familiar argument: why spend so much time with global issues when we have so many problems within our own country, within our own cities? There are no easy nor singular answers to this question, but here was my seven-year-old daughter’s response:

My daughter was mesmerized by the beautifully colored costumes, danced to the beat of the dancers, spinned the wheel, and bought a chocolate cupcake with green frosting while watching the dancers with celebratory interest. We then walked to our car and she looked in our grocery bag and gave the homeless man a mango, a banana, and a bottle of water.  But before she did that, she asked him whether he would like it, as if she were asking a friend.   This is the same child that asks guests attending her birthday party to look at the Heifer International website to buy a cow, sheep or chickens for families in developing countries. She knows that donating the animals for milk, wool, or eggs to feed or warm members of the family is far more impactful than birthday gifts for her. I share this story because it’s a young child’s heartfelt response to the world in which she lives. It is the response of a young girl who sees herself as part of a community not bound by geographical location, race, culture nor religion. It is a response of a girl who does not see poverty, but sees a man who is hungry and who sees the receivers of the Heifer animals as children such as herself.

Is this global citizenship? I hope so.

Global education gives us the knowledge and awareness to question what we see, what we know, and how we act. Being a global citizen compels us to link that knowledge with what we can do to enrich the communities we live in.

Cynthia Napoli-Abella Reiss teaches art history and is the Art History Program Coordinator at WVC. In addition to being an Academic Senator, she is Chair of the WVC Global Citizenship Committee and serves on the ACCJC Site Visit Evaluation Committee

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