I would like to share a childhood experience that effected me so much that I believe it has in some way impacted the way I feel about certain political issues today. All of us have experiences growing up that impact the way we interact with others whether we care to admit it or not. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Sometimes that can be a bad thing. And sometimes, it just is. I'm not sure where this experience that I'm going to share with you and the life lesson I learned from it fits as far as impact. I think it just is.
(Update) Thanks for putting me on the rec list. I didn't notice because I can't stop crying. This still makes me emotional.
The year was 1985 in a small town in the High Desert of Southern California nestled safe and secure behind the largest USMC base in the world. And while that base hosted families of all kinds of Americans and of all ethnicities, I grew up on the civilian side. Many of you know I grew up in a very White Community with a sprinkle of African American families , a handful of Asian families and if there were any Hispanic families , I knew nothing of it until Sixth Grade. Looking back, I'm not sure why my Dad , a man who grew up in the 1930's in the unofficially segregated state of Illinois, a child who entered the US Air Force when he was just 16 (not uncommon back then), a Black man who faced harsh systemic and social bigotry when he got stationed in Texas (also not uncommon back then and .....well now I suppose too), chose to plop right smak dab in the middle of a White community to raise his little girls, but I'm kind of glad he did because it eventually showed that just because you live around Whites doesn't mean you will be a victim of racism. I did eventually get to meet those ever so interesting and diverse Military kids when I entered middle school as all the small town and military kids had only one middle school to go to in that area which was a very nice experience that prepared me for High School and real life in California and America in general.
But my first lesson on racism and prejudice came when I was in the Sixth Grade. It wasn't against me. As a mater of fact, some would be surprised to know that my family did not deal with racism much at all. No burning crosses in our yard. No one moved out of the neighborhood because we lived there. Our neighbor used to invite my sisters and I over to his house during the Summer to swim in his pool. He was a nice old man who gave us cookies and lemonade. And NOOOO, nothing creepy went on. It was legit. My mom said it was okay. My Dad didn't like it though so he started giving us money for the Public Pool so we could swim there. My older brother was a football jock who always took the blond to Prom and Homecoming and the world did not end. He kept all his White friends. Joined the Army after graduation. Anyway, my first real life lesson on racism and prejudice came the last year of elementary when I was in the 6th grade. My teacher, Mr. Stanifer , known for his temper , became known to me for his prejudice against Hispanics as well.
I always knew about Stanifer because one of my older sisters, had him when she was in 6th grade and warned me about him. She told me not to sit in the first row because
"where you sit on day one , is your seat for the whole year and everyone who get's the first row , get's it. When he yells, you can smell his breath and he spits on you and if anyone opens their desk while he's talking , watch out because he will turn around and start lifting and banging the top of whoevers desk it is in front of him and he'll start yelling at the top of his lungs at everyone. Because he says that if you're in your desk, you're not paying attention to him."
And sure enough he did. I nabbed a seat in the middle as to be protected on all sides. Stanifer was also my first and last male teacher and it was so funny to watch him when he got angry. But all that changed when Adrian came. I never saw Mr Stanifer the same way again. I hated him.
Adrian was a sweet , soft spoken young boy and I was excited to have him in my class. I was the only person of color and I thought it was awesome to see someone different . I felt like I wasn't "the only one" anymore even though I was still the only Black. It's hard to describe. Till this day, I don't feel totally comfortable at any function even if they're all Black like me, unless there's some diversity in a room. That's just me. Anyway, back to Adrian which is what this whole diary was supposed to be about. Yes, I liked Adrian, who was Mexican and he liked me. And even though the class also appeared welcoming of Adrian , Stanifer didn't like him much. During role call , he would pronounce Adrian's first and last name with a heavy stereotype Spanish accent. He even did it when he would call on him in class. When he would ask him questions, he did it in that accent with this sick grin on his face. And Adrian was a shy boy. He didn't seem to get angry or rather show anger. I believe he was scared of Mr. Stanifer.
One day , Mr Stanifer was in one of his moods. It was rumored that he was what we call and Alchie or Alky(Alcoholic) because his face was always red, but no one was certain because he had very red hair and freckles and it could have just been genetic, but he came in one morning in a pissed off mood redder than a tomato. He had been nitpicking at Adrian all day and at lunch time , it had escalated . Adrian wasn't moving fast enough for him after Stanifer demanded that he "MOVE HIS TACO BUTT FASTER" as we were all getting in line to head to the Cafeteria for lunch, so he grabbed him by the neck and slammed him down on this concrete bench like thing that surrounded a tree. It's hard to describe , but irrelevant. He told Adrian that he had to sit there until lunch was over because he's not getting any lunch today. Adrians beautiful large doe like eyes were filled with tears and he was holding his neck. I sat down with him, holding him around the shoulders crying too. When I get really pissed off, I cry and I start shaking which is what I did. As the class headed towards the cafeteria, I told Adrian to come with me to the office. I took him to the office and demanded to see the Principle and threatened to call my Mama if the lady didn't let us talk to the Principle.
Adrian got to talk to the Principle , but he didn't come back to class that day. He never came back to class at all and I never saw him again. But guess who did come back to class. Yeah. Stanifer . For the rest of that year, I detached from that class and that teacher. I was there physically, but I did not participate. I used to volunteer to read a paragraph when we would all read together our lessons because , to be honest, I was one of those people who liked to hear the sound of my own voice. But not anymore. I just didn't participate. I didn't go to the board to solve a math problem or volunteer to hand out papers or anything. Sure, I did my homework because I was afraid of my Dad. But I did nothing for Mr. Stanifer ever again. I hated him. I still hate him because I still see him today. I see him in the crowds at these Tea Party rallies yelling and screaming about the presence of Adrian .I see him in the eyes of Arizonas Governor. I see him everywhere I see hate. He's always there looking for Adrian, mocking his name, pushing him down and grabbing him by the neck. I and I still hate him. I hate that spirit.
Adrian is still missing. He's still hiding from Mr Stanifer. He's still afraid of his raging temper and the mocking and the name calling. Adrian is still powerless and all he can do is sit there and cry. And you know what ? I'm still not gonna let the Adians in this nation sit alone and cry. I'm still gonna welcome them. I'm still gonna help them. I'm still going to try to get them some justice. I'm still going to try to get them status and equality and I'm going to reject every single attempt made to strip them of their culture. I'm going to fight those who mock them and berate them and exclude them. And this time , Adrian wont be the one who doesn't get to come back and join the rest of us. This time , it will be Mr Stanifer that loses. These immigrants are people. Human beings who are gentle and kind and just want to work and feed their families. And maybe my experience in Sixth grade blinds me from seeing this whole Immigration Debate from a more balanced perspective, but you all will just have to excuse me if it seems I am always coming to their defense and always taking their side and always arguing their case and always fighting for there cause. It's because I know, they can't . They can't because they are scared. They are scared because there are too many Mr Stanifers in positions of authority in America and too few people like me who will fight for the Adrians in this nation. So, I don't care if people think I'm bias towards them. To me they are helpless and meek immigrants not Illegals. They are Adrian. They are my friends. They are not taco butts.