It was the summer of 1982. My great grandma and I sat on the bus stop on the corner of Bundy and Sunset. Grandma had her eyes closed, her face raised to the sun, taking in a brief moment of peace, the warmth bringing a rosy blush to her very porcelain cheeks.
I thought back to a time when I had sat on this very bus stop, only ten years earlier, a young teenager, in love for the first time.
My boyfriend came from a very ‘respectable’ family – as respectability is normally measured. Educated, professional parents, beautiful home and handsome cars, vacations and special birthday parties, this family was completely at ease in the very wealthy Brentwood neighborhood where we both lived.
I, on the other hand, was in the neighborhood by the grace, and money, of my great grandparents, resentfully given, yet necessary so the family could live in the style we were ‘supposed’ to live. And, as I heard all the time, ‘No thanks of course to your father,’ who became a community-based doctor rather than the large, six-figure salary kinda of doctor he could have been.
Remembering his uncle, the one my father had heard about since he could remember – given the two had the same name – my dad vowed to become a doctor for the community. That uncle died outside a hospital in San Jose, California at the turn of the century, where he was denied access to care, given that he was “Mexican” n’ all.
Good thing they didn’t know he was actually Native American, he might have died by gunshot rather then bleeding to death from his injury.
Race has long been a subject in my life, now, as long as I can remember. I go back long enough to be inspired to tears every time I heard Barak Obama speak this weekend, feeling deeply the significance of his election, knowing just how far our country has come.
My great grandparents, still well enough to drive, passed me and my boyfriend ten years before as we waited for the bus. They did not stop to offer us a lift, nor honk so we could wave hello. No, they stalked by, racing around the corner, speaking excitedly about the horrendous error they had just witnessed their great granddaughter make in public.
My boyfriend was black.
My great grandparents lived in Chicago and wintered in Los Angeles. Before the windy city, they had grown up in the South, marrying as my great grandfather rushed off to war, making together a life, and stumbling like everyone else over issues of money, fidelity, unfulfilled promises, regrets and unsaid feelings.
Where they grew up, the races did not ‘mix’.
This is the message my grandma felt vital I hear after seeing me that day on the bus stop: The races should not mix.
The stinging of her voice rang for many years in my ears. ‘But, I am mixed Grandma,’ echoed in my heart for a long time before I forgave. Sadly, my grandma was not the only one to bring up my mixed heritage. As I grew older, the reality of people questioning, wondering, asking, assessing, measuring and contemplating my heritage became all I knew. Mostly, in me, everyone saw someone different: Native American, Mexican, Middle Eastern, White, Italian, Greek, Chilean, Apache, Yaqui, Cherokee…and the list goes on.
To strike first, before anyone could comment on the strange mixture that I am: English, Irish, Scottish, Daughter of the American Revolution, Native American, Indigenous, an orphan of U.S. policy gone wrong – I would say it simple and clear: I am a mutt.
Recently, Barak Obama, laughing lightly, yet ever serious, declared, “I am a Mutt.”
President Obama’s words went way deep to my heart, and healed. His rise to President of the United States, cures my spirit, for I know, the day has arrived. The day has come when we can begin to embrace and celebrate the racial mixture we all are – the mixture that nothing could stop, born of love where others said only hate.
We are all mutts.
Dance great grandma! Dance great granduncle!
Dance! Dance, Dance! Let us all dance!
Now….let’s get down to business.