Rita’s Diversity Lessons

Mostly, my mom taught me to appreciate diversity through her actions. Never one to entertain mediocrity, she enrolled me at the United Nations Preschool. I remember sitting in a semi-circle with four-year-olds dressed in strange outfits, and it wasn’t Halloween. My Christmas gift when I was 5 was a huge loom handmade by Navaho Indians. It came with a photo of the Indian who built it. In first grade, my mother forced me to play with the girl next door because she walked with braces. This did not turn out well since we had nothing in common.

The worst opportunity came when I spent the week with Jehovah’s Witnesses who lived in our apartment complex. My mom needed to leave town to film a movie, and she left me with them. As far as I could tell, she didn’t do much vetting. I slept on a lumpy couch in their dark living room, staring at photo of tulips. We attended a seven-hour service in their one-room church on Saturday. Toward to end I was weaving with starvation.

Her best friend was from a poor Italian family. Somehow 12 people managed to live in a shotgun flat in Brooklyn. I loved dinner at their home. So many kind people stuffed around the table and lots of delicious and exotic food. My mother quietly deposited something by the door each time we visited. A coat or a sweater. Shoes.

My mother very consciously taught me what rich Irish Catholic New Yorkers do by sending me to a Catholic girls’ school in a mansion on Fifth Avenue and my grandparent’s home in Westchester on the weekends. They lived next to a stately golf club with an annex at the beach. It had an amazing tiled pool with two high dives. My favorite thing to do was take a Sugar Daddy and dip it in the salty bay until it was licked to the stick.