Benigna Munsi is 17. She was born in Nuremberg to an Indian father and a German mother. Last October she was chosen to be the Christkind (Christ Child), a traditional role that involves opening the city’s famous Christmas market and touring local towns, schools, and nursing homes. Not everyone was thrilled with the pick…
Shortly after Benigna’s appointment was announced, a member of the far right Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party posted on Facebook to mock the decision. The post, now deleted, lamented that German people would be eradicated as the “Indians” (as in Native Americans) once were. The post, and a few more online comments in the same vein, sparked a massive backlash in Germany and triggered countless messages of support to Benigna, not least from the mayor of Nuremberg himself.
And Benigna’s perspective on the recent turmoil? She is “mega happy” to be the Christkind (a beloved tradition she has soaked in all her life) and amazed at the level of support she has received. In an interview she gave in the aftermath of the Christkind commotion she said that it was her first time experiencing racism personally. She also noted, interestingly, that dark-skinned boys she knew were more exposed to racism and rejection than girls.
The person that emerges from her interviews is warm-hearted and clear-minded, for example in the way she talks about how personal fears and frustrations can lead to racism. She is also full of energy and engaged with the world. She plays the viola and the oboe. She sings in her church choir and is an active church member. She spent the 2017-2018 school year in Sao Paulo in a school exchange and has since welcomed her Brazilian host family in Nuremberg.
“Benigna” means “disposed to the good” — a fitting name for her. Being at the center of a heated public debate might be exciting for someone this young and vibrant. But there is no question it must feel exhausting and burdening at times. What strikes me is that she seems to have accepted that going on with her Christkind role means embracing a much broader mission.
She means to demonstrate that the fears that trigger racism are not justified. Her arguments are, simply put, who she is – a well-adjusted, determined, and cheerful very young mixed-race woman, and how she projects who she is. There is no doubt in my mind that she is well aware that, by embodying diversity and inclusion, she is of service to her community and her society.
When I look at Benigna I feel inspired and hopeful. I also can’t help thinking of Minette and of the kind of person she will come to be a decade from now. I hope that she will have some of the calm, engagement, and stamina that are so striking in Benigna.
I know that parenting is a building block in the formation of a child’s character. I also know that parenting can never be flawless and that it does not predict everything. So let this be my Christmas wish: may this world’s parents strive to raise children disposed to the good and may our own child, Minette, become, through our and her own efforts, the strong, kind, and driven woman she is often foreshadowing.