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Sunday, August 19, 2007


In 1972, I lived in Abernathy, Texas. I was 15, living in a sheltered environment. My life revolved around the 45s spinning on my turntable, school, church, family and friends. Vietnam was a part of our daily lives, but my life was far removed from the turmoil experienced by others across the country.

In Texas, you conformed. In my family, you conformed. I had no desire to burn flags or protest a war that some of my older cousins were fighting in -- it was just part of life. My biggest ambition in life was to write for the school paper and make it to the Friday night football game. Marcia Brady was my idol.

Yea. Pretty lame.

A world away in the Watts neighborhood of LA, they were "remembering" the Watts riots that had taken place seven years before.

Hubby and I recently went to the Beach Theatre's screening of Wattstax -- a documentary including footage of that concert. We laughed at the fashion that reminded us of outfits we used to have "back in the day." And, we listened to these folks. I wondered where they were, these people who lifted their fists and shouted along with a young Jesse Jackson, "I am somebody."

A struggle that I was not a part of -- desegration touched my life only slightly. I didn't know about this other struggle and I somehow feel guilty and impotent at the same time. I feel guilty that I lived in my sheltered world and knew very little of the world outside of my own neighborhood -- or even across our small town in the area of town known as "the Flats" where many of the black people in town lived. I feel impotent in that there's been no turning point for the Hispanic community -- I'm not talking about the new immigrants to this country, legal or illegal. I'm talking about the Hispanic Americans, be they "Mexican" or whatever whose families/ancestors settled in this country centuries ago among the Irish, French, Germans, British. I'm talking about the ones who centuries later were still considered outsiders by those "American" people in the community.

I remember instances of understanding we were different than the Bradys. We spoke Spanish occasionally in our home -- my parents strongly encouraged us to speak English at all times so that we wouldn't have an "accent." When I was in first grade, I remember helping another Spanish-speaking student with something the teacher was saying. I repeated it in Spanish to the student. I was "caught" and sent to the office and paddled by the principal. I fluently spoke TWO languages and was punished for it.

We were the same as our neighbors, yet different.

I remember a high school girl across the street from our house. Marla. Marla was white, caucasian, etc. Our upbringing was very similar. Our fathers provided for their families through farming, yet moved the family to town for better opportunties for the kids. We cheered for the same team every Friday night. We loved the Cowboys and Tom Landry. We listened to the same music, and caught Cardinals games on the radio. We attended the Baptist Church. We ate Hamburger Helper during the week and roast or fried chicken every Sunday.

I know all that because that's Texas. It's what you did. We were all the same.

Yet, Marla NEVER spoke to me. Not when we walked down the sidewalk in the same direction. Not at school. I was Mexican -- or so I was told where I grew up. Never mind that Mexican means "citizen of Mexico." I've never been to Mexico. I don't know anyone who lives there. I never even knew what "Cinco de Mayo" was until I was older and lived in Okinawa, Japan and met a U.S. Marine Corps Colonel who just happened to BE FROM and a citizen of Mexico.

The only talk about civil rights that I ever remember at my home was the year my elementary school in Floydada, Texas was desegregated. The original plan was to move children from Duncan to the black school. I remember my parents were upset because the kids who were being moved were the "non-white" Hispanic kids. That changed and the black school was closed and all the students were eventually brought into all the schools. I didn't understand it.

A few years ago, I asked my mother about the "colored " and "white only" signs and how they affected Hispanics before the Civil rights era. She didn't and wouldn't talk about it. I know that not all hotels or restaurants welcomed my parents. But we don't talk about it.

That's why I've really taken to heart lately the journey that the Black community has gone through. I think in many ways, the Hispanic community still lags behind. Those of us whose ancestors came to this country along centuries ago, still havent' found a way to accept our differences, and still haven't found a way to find our equal place in the history and the future of this country.

More to ponder as I continue on this journey.

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