A family picture features a mom, dad, 3 daughters and a son, all African American and dressed in yellow and green.
The author Lindsay Cherry with her family.

The Kinderparade: We Have A Problem

By Lindsay Cherry
January 10, 2019

As we near the 90th year of the Tulip Time Festival to celebrate Holland, the tulips, and Dutch Heritage, my husband and I, like many other parents in this community, have to once again consider whether or not our children will participate in the Kinderparade. Last year would have been the first time our son could have participated, and we chose to not make our child assimilate into a culture—into a tradition—that was exclusive of him. Unfortunately, he was sad about not being able to march in the parade with his friends. However, once we explained it to him, he understood why.

This parade is always exciting for children. For some it is their first time and for others their last time. Children from Kindergarten to 12th grade march proudly with their classmates while searching the crowd for their family, friends, and others they may know. For teachers and administrators, it is a little crazy making sure that everyone has the correct pieces, that there is enough water to go around, and God forbid it rains. For parents, they either have to find, buy, beg, or borrow a Dutch costume for their child and make sure that it is at the school with their lunch. Then parents wait eagerly for their child along the route to wave proudly and take their pictures. These beautiful pictures are held in the family scrapbooks and posted all over social media. There is a collection of photos of children from all different cultures, races, and religions in Dutch costumes.

This is unfortunate. This is a problem. And my husband and I have chosen, like many other Holland families, to not allow our children to participate in this exclusive tradition.

First of all, our public schools within the area care about all of our students so much that these expensive costumes are stored the entire year so that as many students as possible can participate by borrowing a costume. However, there are still not enough costumes, so it is first-come, first-served. This is not inclusive when Holland Public’s student population sees nearly 61% of our students receiving free or reduced lunch, which means that many of these students’ parents cannot afford a costume. Therefore, many students will not be able to participate in the parade.

Furthermore, approximately 59% of the population of Holland Public Schools is made up of students of color. Our diversity score is much higher than the state’s score. So we have hundreds of students who are not white or Dutch being forced to wear a Dutch costume in order to participate in the community’s parade. How is this any different than forcing new names, education, and religion on a group of people? Yes, it is on a much smaller scale. However, to the most vulnerable of our community, the message is being sent that your heritage and culture are not good enough to be put on display. So you must wear the Dutch costume and be reminded year after year that it is the Dutch way or no way.

One could say, So what? Then don’t participate.

But we are at a critical time in Holland’s history. We are getting ready to celebrate 90 years of the Tulip Time Festival. Our community has grown and changed, so our traditions need to grow and change. And if we are really going to live up to the Tulip Time Festival’s Mission, “To celebrate Holland’s tulips, Dutch heritage, and community,” then we must consider ways to be more inclusive of our community.

When I was a little girl, I was able to wear the costume with my beautiful brown skin and my black, curly, frizzy hair one year. I only got to wear the costume once, and that was because that was all that we could afford. Except for that one time, I didn’t participate in the parades. Also, even though I got to wear the costume and it seemed normal at the time, I can see now that it was just one of many events in my life where I practiced assimilation. I practiced it so much so that it became second nature to me.

The expectation that all children must wear a Dutch costume in order to participate in the Kinderparade is wrong, and brings a divide to our community. What a beautiful array it would be to see all of our children in their own cultural dress walking in the Kinderparade. Not only would it create a more inclusive tradition, but it would also send the message that Holland truly is about diversity and community. And that all are welcomed.

Lindsay Cherry is from West Michigan. She is a wife and mom, an activist and educator.

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