I Feel Very Strongly...
I was born in Sri Lanka.† My parents were members of the Tamil (upper class) caste in Sri Lanka.† They had a large family--twelve of us children--six boys and six girls.† Two sisters were younger than me and three were older.
Sri Lanka was under British rule when I was a child.†† Sri Lanka had two castes:† Tamils and Sengalese.††† The British wanted to promote antagonism between the Tamils and the Sengalese, so they put Tamilese judges in Sengalese communities.† My father , a Tamil, was appointed a judge by the British for a Sengalese community.† My father did not believe in punishing.† He believed in trying to make people better.† The Sengalese were very poor and could not afford lawyers and could not talk English, so they could not win their case.† So before any judgment, my father sat down with the Sengalese and talked their language (he had learned about five different languages because he wanted to be a good judge).†† In that way he managed to give them justice.† But people got mad with him for helping the Sengalese, so they reported him to the government, and the government removed him.† So he didnít know what to do.† But my brother said that he would represent the Sengalese and not charge them anything.† So the government couldnít do anything about that.
The Worst Class Becomes the Best Class
When I was a teacher in Sri Lanka they gave me a class of children who misbehaved.† I was wondering what to do about this.† This idea came to me, so I said to the children , "All the children who want to behave like intelligent children come on this side of the room and all the children who want to do foolish things and act stupid come on that side of the room."† And, you know, all the children lined up on the side of behaving intelligently.†† Other teachers got mad with me for doing that so they reported me to the principal.† So I had to go to the principal who said "Why are you doing this?"† I said "Ms. Chort, I wanted to make the children realize that everyone could do well in school.† That is why I am doing this."
†Another thing I did was have the children who were very smart help the children who were not at all smart Other teachers didnít like that either.† They thought that was the teachersí job.† I said "No. Let the children help each other.† If the children help each other, the children can feel that they can be smart."† The principal said " I never thought of it that way," and told me I could go ahead with my plan
Leaving Home to Learn to be a Nurse
I decided that I wanted to be a nurse, but the only place where I could get that training was in England. I went to my mother to get her permission to leave home and go to England.† I thought that I would have to persuade her to allow me to do this.† So this is what I told her:
"When you were young you were not supposed to learn English because you were a woman.† But your father, my grandfather , taught you English and you learned it.† It was useful to you.† Now you went against the law, didnít you?† But it helped you.†† So I said,† You may think I am going against the law to go to England, but that is the only place I can learn to be a nurse because there is no nurses training in Sri Lanka.† So what do you want me to do?† Be like you and do the right thing, or not do the right thing.† So my mother said "You can go."† My parents didnít really want me to go to England, but they allowed me to go because they didnít want to appear segregated.
So I got a ticket on a ship going to England.† On the ship there was a man who got friendly with me.†† I found out that he wanted to rape me.† If he did that, I would have been sent back to Sri Lanka.
So I said to him, "I found out what you are trying to do and why you are friendly with me."
He said "what do you mean?"
I said, "You are friendly with me in order to do something undesirable."
He said, "What is it that is undesirable?"
I replied, "You may desire it, but I donít desire it.† I believe that you want to rape me and send me back home to Sri Lanka."
He challenged me, "How do you know that?"
"Never mind how I know it;† I know it.† I am sorry about that because you are a gentleman.† And gentlemen donít do such horrible things.† I was surprised when I learned that you had consented to do something† so ungentlemanly."
He was surprised and said, "Where did you learn all these things to speak like that?"
I said, " I am speaking the truth, am I not?"
He said, "You are."
I continued, "You are a gentleman.† And gentlemen donít do certain things.† If you do what you are planning to do, you wonít be a gentleman.† And that is all I am thinking about."
He said,† "You are quite right; I should never have thought of doing such a thing.† Will you go and have lunch with me?"
You know I feel very strongly† that† Christ was quite right when he said† "Seek ye the truth and the truth will set you free."† The Truth has power!
About speaking your point of view
You know, you must never try to express yourself in an arrogant way.† Because when you do that you encourage opposition.† If you talk in a gentle quiet way they can begin† to see your point of view.† I see that if you present the truth in a gentle way,people realize that what you say is not antagonistic.† When I was talking to the Jews in Germany while Hitler was† in power.†† I was arrested.† Hitler was near-by so I asked to speak to him.†† I had learned that he knew how to speak English.† When I met with him, I said that I knew that he spoke English. Then I said, "I didnít go to talk to the Jews because I was for them or against them.† I just wanted to know what was happening to them because I feel that we are all† human.† You are German and I am Asian but I share one thing in common with you.† We are both human beings.† You are German, I am Asian, and they are Jewish, but we all share a common humanity.† Thatís the only reason I was speaking to them because I feel that as a human being I can communicate with other human beings, just as I am communicating with you."† He said, †"I never thought of it that way before."
My After School Program in My Home
I was living near Boston in a neighborhood where there were children of many races.† On one side of my house there was an all white neighborhood.† On the other side there was a neighborhood where families of several races lived with their children.† It was a time of segregation when it was against the custom and law for different races to get together.† After-school programs cost a lot of money† then and many parents could not afford to send their children.† So I said to the parents, "You can send them to me and I will work with them."
† ††††††††††††† I had Japanese, Chinese, German, French, and Afro-American children.† (They came to my home every afternoon and I helped them do their homework.)† There were some people who didnít like what I was doing so they took me to court.† They said that I was "mixing the children up."
In court† the judge said to me, "Why are you doing this?† You are not even a citizen here."
†So I said "Your Honor, I am doing this to say thank you to America."
†"So what are you thanking America for?"
"For not sending me back to Sri Lanka before they have made up their minds about my becoming a citizen.† They could have sent me back to Sri Lanka.† That would have been a lot of trouble for me and cost me a lot of money, but they didnít do that.† They let me stay in America until the matter was resolved.† Iím a Buddhist, you see, and I am from Asian†† In Asia if someone does something good for you, you try to do something good in return.† Now the government did something good for me.† What can I do for the government?†† I canít do anything good for the government.† But the children belong to the government† so if I do something for the children, I am saying thank you to the government, you see.† The more the children benefit, and the government feels happy about it. And thatís the only reason Iím doing it."
The judge said: " You are charging the children?"
Two of the mothers had come to court. ( I didnít know they were going to come.)† They said, "We want to explain† because we are the ones who give that money and we know why we did it."
The judge said "all right".
They said, "She feeds our children after school and she doesnít charge us anything for that.† She feeds them lunch and supper too, before they leave, so we decided to give her $5 because she gives them supper."†
The judge said,"† What?!† You give them supper too?"†
I said† "Yes, your honor, after all they are children.† Children are the most important part of any countryís assets.† I want to help the children, and thatís all I am doing--helping the children, because I love children and in helping the children I feel that I am helping the country.† And thatís the reason I am doing this."
The judge said:† "Carry on with your work."
You know, I feel very strongly what Jesus said--if you speak the Truth, the Truth has power.
The Trip I took with the Children
I said to myself, "I could bring these children on a trip."† I knew a lot of people across the United States from several organizations I belonged to.† They worked with children, too.† ( I had money then, so I would send them money every month.)† I asked them if they could help me house the children.† My friends said, "Bring the children; weíll look after them."
I went to a bus owner and I explained to him what I was trying to do with the children.† I explained that I wanted to have all the children travel together.†† I asked him for a bus† to help me have all the children travel together and not be separated by the color of their skin.††† I told him, "They are all human children and should be treated as human beings.† I take the children as human beings, so I canít segregate them.†† I am taking them where I can take all the children together."† The bus owner said, "I wouldnít have believed a woman like you would do that kind of thing.† Iíll allow you to do that."
I took twenty kids.† We traveled all over.† Wherever my friends were, they took the children in.† Wherever we stayed† my friends allowed my children to participate with their children.† So we didnít have any problems. †We were gone a month.† We went to New York and then all the way to California.† We came back through the South.† We went to any place you could see anything.† We went to Canada; we went to Yellowstone; we went to the Grand Canyon; I canít remember all the places we went.† You know, I did this because I feel that children should know that they are loved."
We are all One
I wanted the children to know they are all the same, that their skin color was not what was important about them.† I had this idea.†† I had roses blooming in my garden--yellow, blue, red, and† white.† So I took a rose of each color to school.† I said to the children,† "See these are all roses.† Are they the same color?"
"What colors are they?"
The children said,† "White.† Red.† Blue"
"They are different colors.† Does a rose being a different color make one rose better or another rose inferior?"
The children said, "No."
So I said, "You see, they are all roses, but different colors.† None is inferior and none superior.†† Now, all human beings are not the same color are they?†† Some are yellow, some are pink, some are brownish--all different colors.† Does that make them "not human"?
"So you see the color of your skin has nothing to do with who you are.† Whatever color you are, you are still a human being.† And that is what makes us all one--our common humanity.† They canít segregate you according to the color of your skin.† But they may segregate you according to the kind of person you are."
My Home is a Haven for Runaway Children
A lot of children were running away.† I would let them stay at my house.† This was during the time when there were a lot of hippies.† Everyone said I shouldnít do this.† I said, "Look, if you help them see that they need not be hippies and run away, if you help them see that life can be an exciting adventure. then they will stop being hippies.† And I proved it!
I somehow got their parents on the phone and got them interested in talking to me.† I said to them, "I know you are angry with your daughter for leaving home, but donít show anger or hate or anything, show your concern for your daughter to make your daughter understand that you were firm because you didnít want her to do something foolish, not because you didnít like her or because you despised her."† The parent would say, "I donít think that will work."† I said, "If you donít try you donít know whether it will work or not.† But if you try it then you will know whether it will work or not.† So why donít you try it?"† So the parent said, "All right, Iíll try it."
Then I told the daughter,† "I spoke to your mother and she wants to speak to you."
The daughter was all huffy and didnít want to speak to her mother.
I said, "If your mother wants to speak to you, sheís being intelligent.† If you donít want to speak to her you are being unintelligent.† Now what do you want to be:† intelligent or unintelligent?
"Of course I want to be intelligent,." the girl said back to me.
"Then you need to speak to your mother.† Thatís the intelligent thing to do."
So she spoke to her mother and they became friends.
The neighbors were not happy that I was taking in these runaway girls.† They wanted to take me to court about it.† So I called† a meeting of the mothers and I said to them.† "Suppose your daughter ran away.† Would you want me to send her away or help her?† If you donít want that to happen to your daughter or your son, why would you want it to happen to someone elseís daughter or son?"† They said,† "We never thought of it like that before."
I feel this way.† If you want to do a good thing, donít do it with anger or malice .† Do it because it is the right thing to do.
Why I became a citizen of the United States
Iím Asian, you know, and I came to the United States during World War II because I was married to an American.† I didnít become a citizen for a number of years because Immigration thought I should return to Sri Lanka, where I was born.† Finally I had a hearing before a judge.† He asked me why I wanted to become a citizen.† I told the judge, "I decided to become an American citizen when I gave a New Yearís party.† There were many nationalities present and 15 languages were spoken that evening.† I thought 'this could only happen in America.'† And that is why I want to become an American citizen."† The judge said "Give me the order, I will sign it myself."† And that is how I became an American citizen.
from a taped interview by Marilyn McDonald
@ January, 2000