Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pearl 19: Segregation Isn't About Geography...It is a State of Mind

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,                                                               6/10/08

Greetings, my sweethearts!  It is just 13 more days until the start of “Camp PK” and you will be down visiting us in Texas for a whole month!  We are so excited. Granny and I are so busy getting ready for Aunt Bits and Sae’s wedding on the 21st of June and for your visit we hardly have any time to breathe.  You haven’t met your future Uncle Sae but he is really looking forward to seeing you guys.  He loves children and I don’t think it will be too awfully long before they may present you with your first cousin.  Won’t that be fun?

Sae’s last name is Cho and he and his family are from South Korea.  As you will soon see he is a very handsome man and he is really intelligent too, kind of like your Daddy and Mommy.  He has a great sense of humor, a lot of common sense and plays the guitar and sings, something I always wished I could do.  He is an architect by education and experience and even though he is an Aggie (yes, he went to that “other” state university), we are anxious to welcome him into our family.

Thinking about these two educationally different  as well as ethnically diverse families coming together kind of reminds me about my middle teenage years which I spent in three different schools in two different states and two very different cultures.  Unlike your Granny who is a native Texan, I spent most of my adolescence in Southern California.  In 1961 I attended Genesha High School in Pomona, CA.  It was a racially mixed city as far back as I can remember.  Blacks, Mexicans and Orientals (preferably referred to today as African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians although at that time I do not recall anyone getting upset by the former nomenclature) shared the schools, the neighborhoods and their lives with us white kids.  It sure seemed normal at the time. 

The president of the senior class the year I was a sophomore was a handsome man named Les Shy.  He was the star running back on our football team, popular with all the ladies and a really great guy.  He cracked my tailbone once when he literally ran over my right defensive tackle position. He went on to play college ball at Long Beach State and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, playing for them for four years and one with the NY Giants before he retired.  His younger brother Don Shy, who was only one year ahead of me, was also a running back and played for San Diego State before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and playing for them and the New Orleans Saints, the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Cardinals. They were really terrific young men and very popular.  Oh, did I mention they are black?  Doesn’t matter really, no one saw or gave one minute of thought to the color of their skin.

One of my best friends my sophomore year was Jay.  We hung out together, dated the same girl once, played golf together (he was the better player and I was just as bad then as now) and shared a love of music.  I lost track of Jay after we moved to Texas in 1963, but every time I see the Trejo name, I wonder if it is Jay or a relative of his.  Oh, did I mention he is Hispanic?  Doesn’t matter really, no one saw or gave one minute of thought to the color of his skin.

When our family moved to Texas I enrolled for my senior year at Richfield High School in Waco.  On campus for only a couple of days I noticed something very strange so I told one of the girls in my homeroom who sat behind me what I had observed.  Namely, there wasn’t any blacks or Mexicans in the school and I asked her why.  I was told, “Oh, because those people don’t live in our school district.”  “Ah”, I said, thinking that was a logical reason.  Then I thought about it and it raised another question, so the next day I asked, “Why don’t blacks and Mexicans live in this school district?”  The pretty girl looked at me as if I must be from another planet and said, matter-of-factly, “Because no self-respecting real estate agent would sell a black or Mexican family a home in our school district”.  She went on to point out that the blacks and Mexicans all went to Waco High School because it was in “their part of town”.  Now can you imagine how these kids from this rural central Texas town would have reacted to one of their own marrying “an Oriental”?  That kind of brings me to my next pearl.

Nineteenth Pearl:  “Segregation Isn’t About Geography….It is a State of Mind

My whole life’s experience, everything I was ever taught told me this was wrong. It was my first experience with segregation.  And over the next year, I learned my first lessons about bigotry, prejudice and racism and how some people do see and give a lot of thought to the color of one’s skin. Now not everyone at Richfield was like that, but many, unfortunately, were.  That year was a real eye opener for me in more ways than one.  I was raised to judge a person, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had so eloquently put it just that past summer, not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.  And here I was among so many people; good people, honest people, intelligent people, who truly believed that a man’s character had something to do with skin color.

I had to make a decision.  I liked these good southern kids and I wanted them to like me.  I wanted to be a part of their lives but I couldn’t accept their thinking on this issue.  I vowed to myself that I would stay true to my upbringing and my own feelings about race.  I tried to encourage others to think as I did, sometimes to my detriment.  I thought if I ever had my own children, I would raise them as I had been taught.  The next year, of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.  It was a landmark piece of legislation that not only championed the rights of blacks but women and all minorities.  Over the last forty plus years that law and others which followed have helped to level the public playing field and significant change has occurred. After all, we now have our first African American presidential candidate (not counting Les Shy). 

Unfortunately, prejudice still exists.  Segregation between ethnic groups still exists.  It continues to exist because legislation only changes the law, it doesn’t change people’s feelings. The only way we have a prayer of eliminating prejudice is to change people’s minds and hearts.  We can start by not teaching prejudice to our children and our children’s children.  We can start by becoming color blind ourselves so our legacy is color blind.  We can encourage others toward acceptance and inclusion and away from segregation and exclusion.  And, we can start by welcoming Sae Cho and his family into our family with open arms and loving hearts.

I will see you in Toledo next week and then Granny and I will be at Aunt Brittany’s wedding before we go to “Camp PK”.  Until then, may God Bless you and keep you in His care.

Love you, bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud    xoxoxo