Everybody looked basically the same where I grew up: fair skin, blond or occasionally brown hair, blue or gray-green eyes. Most people I knew lived in a neighborhood that also looked the same with long rows of yellow or red boxy homes attached by garages.
There were two kids in my suburban grade school who stood out. One of them had black curly hair and an African-American dad, the other hailed from a Chinese family. The boys were famous in our school because they were different.
They were never a threat to our peaceful and conformist lifestyle.
In Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s, citizens were secure and comfortable in their centuries-old traditions, and took pride in the nation’s rising disposable incomes, generous social benefits and successful export industries.
In those days, every year was like the one before, punctuated by the same holiday and vacation rituals, but each year a little better than the last.
You could compare the place where I grew up to white middle-class America a decade or so earlier – the 1950s Eisenhower era where people who shared the same values gathered for Sunday dinners, said grace, respected the President and looked forward to the next generation prospering in a thriving post-War World II economy.
None of us could sense change coming. We didn’t know then that our idyll was just a cocoon that temporarily shielded us from the colorful, violent and complicated world that surrounded us.
And now, our innocence gone, it’s to that simple, untangled and cocooned life that so many Swedes and Americans want to return. They long for a place where people look, act, pray, eat, speak and want the same.
So they take solace in hearing Donald Trump promise to make Mexico pay for a wall that will shield the United States from illegal immigrants. Or, in the case of one-fifth of Swedes, they support a party with neo-Nazi roots whose agenda includes repatriating refugees to their native countries.
They want to turn the clock back, except they can’t.
“The pace of change will only accelerate”
In America today, my kids have friends growing up with two moms who are married to one another, or with parents who speak no English.
Their schools, where students of European descent are now a minority, send home communication in English, Spanish, Amharic and French. Their classmates are Jewish, Sikh, West African, Central American, French Canadian, Ethiopian, Muslim and regular white and black Americans.
This extraordinary cultural mix prompted my wide-eyed father-in-law, from that 1950s generation, to note when he visited one of the schools, “It’s like the National Geographic.”
Diversity is one of the many fundamental changes that time has wrought in this country and in the one where I was born. Everybody’s no longer the same and the comfort zone is gone.
It’s left some people scared that, maybe, they will never again feel at home.
As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address back in January, “whether we like it or not, the pace of change will only accelerate.”
For my kids, of course, it’s just normal.