“Why do some people want to attack both my countries?” asks my 11-year old son with tears in his eyes. He is Norwegian and American, and this summer we are in California with his American family. He has just heard about what happened in Norway on 7/22. Our eyes are red, and we speak to him in low, sad voices. This is too much to take in for a boy who understands much but is not yet a grown-up.
For us, the bicultural parents, the events in Norway are shocking, yet strangely familiar. On 9/11, our oldest son was 1 year old. He spent most of that day on his grandmother’s lap while everyone around him was watching with disbelief the TV scenes from New York and Washington. We were frantically calling friends and family to make sure that everyone was safe. Now we are in the United States communicating with friends and family in Norway via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and texting. Much is different, much has changed, but the feeling, the grief, the process of dealing with the event, are similar.
In the days that have passed since 7/22, the boys wonder: What will happen now? How will Norway be after the attacks?
“Well,” we reply, “we are not sure, but there might be people who think that we will need to check more things, that there might be more police in places where we are not used to seeing them and perhaps some of them will have guns.”
“Will that help?” the youngest wants to know. “We don’t know” is the only honest answer we can come up with. Will greater security in Norway make them safer, or will it create an illusion of safety? Visible security measures, as they observe in the United States, also contribute to creating a climate of fear by signaling that there is something to be afraid of.
Norway has its share of problems, but a culture of fear the likes of which we see in the United States is not among them. The Norwegian response to the tragedy has been a call for more openness as well as a loud-voiced opposition to anti-multicultural forces, as opposed to increasing security measures. It has been opposite of the American response after 9/11.
Since 7/22, a new conceptualization of a Norwegian “we” has emerged. It is a multicultural conceptualization that is in opposition to “them” who idealize a monocultural Norway. This, we hope, will build a better society, better security and a better Norway.
This is a change in which the boys can play a role. They can be ambassadors, along with many others, for a multicultural Norwegian society. Over their many visits to the United States, they have seen that people of many different backgrounds are Americans and that uniqueness is seen as a resource rather than a problem. “Norway could also be like that,” we explain.
The youngest one is comforted by this and falls asleep. The older one is still thinking, but after a while he looks at us and says enthusiastically; “I think that we can learn a lot from animals – they know that if they protect their pack, then the pack will protect them.” He has found an answer, dries his tears, and eventually falls asleep.
- This text was first published in San Francisco Chronicle 10 August 2011.