I was six years old when I experienced prejudice for the first time. We had moved to Levelland, Texas, and I was still trying to become accustomed to the enclosed spaces and the lack of freedom. It was a stressful time for this six year old and things were about to get worse.
My daddy was a preacher and had always stressed to us the importance of accepting people no matter what their ethnic background, the color of their skin or their religious differences. He'd sat me on his lap once and told me with tears in his eyes that only truly ignorant people saw color and that I was never to allow myself to become ignorant. I didn't understand at the time what he was talking about. I'd grown up totally color blind. There was no color as far as I was concerned. The only thing I ever remembered daddy say concerning color was that the color of our skin made us all unique and special.
I remember that we'd finally moved to Levelland and into the house at 279 Avenue F. The town was extremely small and only had Avenues A through Z, and Streets 1-20. It was a cute little town. Although Levelland may have been small in size, it was huge with racism.
We'd been given a very small, two bedroom house. But my daddy, as usual, was prepared to make the best of it. He said God had led him there to serve and serve he would, no matter what the circumstances. The house faced east and was a dingy gray color. The windows looked like they hadn't been washed in years, and the floors on the inside were extremely filthy. Not even the sunshine could have made that house look welcoming. I remember the look on my momma's face; sad, defeated. She turned to my daddy and told him that those two small bedrooms wouldn't be enough for the seven of us. She was pregnant with my little brother, and just knowing that the house would need major cleaning, painting and fumigating was almost too much for her.
Adopting a cheerful attitude, my daddy decided that before we rolled up our sleeves and got to work he would bribe us with some breakfast. He took us to this really nice looking restaurant and when we walked in we met the biggest crowd of ignorant people in the world. We were escorted out and it was explained to us that Mexicans were not allowed in such an establishment. My daddy just thanked them and told us all to get back in the car. I remember as we were pulling away that a blond haired lady put a huge sign on the door that said, "No Mexicans or Blacks Allowed." That was my first taste of ignorant people, and there was still more to come.
It took us about three weeks to get the house spic (no pun intended) and span. We'd get up early, and work until the sun went down. We all pitched in. We'd go to bed at night extremely tired, but happy. We were making a home for ourselves, and hopefully one for our little brother once he was born. We thought it was worth all the hard work.
We finished the house the week of July 4th, and it looked like a totally different house. The house was white with black trimming all the way around, and you could actually see through the windows. Everything was spotless on the inside. The sink and the faucets sparkled. I could actually see my reflection in them. Momma said the floors were so clean you could have eaten off of them. The outside of the house looked beautiful because of momma's hard work. The weeds had been pulled out and flowers had been planted. Just looking at the house gave us a sense of accomplishment.
Daddy was so proud of how the house looked that he decided to throw a celebration. We all piled into the car and made our way to Harper's Supermarket. It was a mistake we didn't make again. We learned after that one time not to go back to Harper's Supermarket (it was run by ignorant people).
We went home a little wiser and a lot sadder, and things only got worse. One of the men at Harper's had told my daddy he wanted to come by and see the house, and my daddy had willingly agreed, after all not only was Mr. Taylor one of the deacons at Calvary Baptist in Levelland, but he was also the owner of our little house. His kindness had provided a house for us, and daddy was so proud of everything we had accomplished, that he wanted to show off our little house.
Daddy and Momma had invited several members of Iglesia Bautista Calvario to our home that night. He wanted them to get to know us as a family. We were all having a great time when Mr. Taylor arrived. He exclaimed over everything we'd done. He complimented my parents on their taste in color and furniture. I remember my daddy beaming with pride. We celebrated until quite late that Saturday night. We had so much fun that we finally felt like we were beginning to fit in. Then, the clock struck midnight and Mr. Taylor joined the ranks of the truly ignorant. He told my daddy we had to be out of the house by noon on Monday. An Anglo family of three have moved to town and would be serving at Calvary Baptist. He'd decided to give them our house. Now that the house was clean, it was suitable for habitation by a white family. He actually thanked us, and expected us to understand. I didn't really understand what was going on. All I knew was that for the very first time my gentle Momma spoke out in anger.
My Daddy just stood there for a minute then bowed his head and sighed. My Momma on the other hand went ballistic. By the time she was finished with Mr. Taylor, he was dark with anger and she white. That incident brought home to our family that racism did exist, and that ignoring it wouldn't make it go away.
I look back and feel a painful twinge in my heart and ask myself, "Does racism still exist today?" Yes, it most certainly does. There is still much racism, and everyday it appears that someone has found a new way or a new word to belittle someone else. No ethnicity, skin color or language exists that hasn't had racial slurs hurled at it. But I also think that there have been some positive changes. There's more acceptance of skin color and religious differences than there was back then, as is proven by my family. We consist of Blacks, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Mexicans, Costa Ricans, etc. My family has become a melting pot. We're all extremely proud of our heritage, and we ask our children not to ignore skin color, but to get to know the richness of each ethnic background.
Back then we were constantly reminded by our parents and school teachers not to speak Spanish in public. We were to ignore insults such as "spics" or "tacos." We were expected to calmly accept any racial slur that was thrown our way and not to defend ourselves. It was as though we had something to be ashamed of.
Now we remind our children how important our language and heritage is, and that we have much to be proud of and much to offer. I, like my father before me, urge color-blindness. Do not see color as a thing to hate and hide, rather, see it as a wonderful gift that can further enrich your life. Be proud of who you are!