In his younger days, my dad was very different than he was later in life. He was always an honest and hardworking man, never lied, always paid his bills on time and kept the same job from 1939 until he retired in 1982, with time out for the war. He was also a prejudiced man, especially toward African Americans. Perhaps it was because of his upbringing in the Midwest, I don’t know. But as he got older, he began to become less prejudiced in his ways.
It was kind of a “selective prejudice”, I would say, because coming from the “redneckish” upbringing in heartland America, I find it hard to understand (and a little grateful) his attraction to my Mexican mother, and their marriage in 1942. Looking back in more retrospect, I think it was tolerance and acceptance on both sides of the family, I saw no hate or bitterness coming from anyone. My dad learned to speak a little Spanish, and all was well.
My parents settled in south-central Los Angeles, on Van Ness Ave. near 52nd street. It wasn’t too bad of an area in the 40’s and 50’s, but then we moved to Inglewood, an L.A. suburb in 1959. It was an upscale all-white neighborhood, and things were nice, at least from my point of view. There were a few black kids in my class at school, and I was friends with them.
The mid 1960’s brought a lot of turmoil to Los Angeles. There were the Watts Riots, forced busing, and the advent of the Black Panther movement. My dad was becoming very angry and began cursing a lot, using the “n” word. He even began carrying a gun in his truck. There were a lot of fights at school, and gangs began to form. A lot of anger, hatred and prejudice were being directed toward a lot of my friends because they were black. But still, nothing was directed toward me and my white friends. I couldn’t understand it. Why was everyone so angry?
That was all years ago. I realize that prejudice exists everywhere, and it is hard to change old points of view in some people. But it took nearly 50 years for me to actually experience racial prejudice that was directed at me personally. Before I go any further, as you can see by my picture that I am not a brown skinned Hispanic, rather I have some of the olive complexion of my mother. But when I came to the Deep South in 2002, I was treated like a foreigner. My wife’s step mother asked me “What are you? Are you an I-Talian?” I explained to her my heritage, and now she introduces me as “This is Del, he’s a Mexican.”
One of the narrow minded ladies that she was introducing me to responded with “He looks like a Taliban to me.”
I have lived in the Midwest, the far west and now the south, and I swear, I have never lived among a group of people that put so much stock in your heritage, and have it make a difference in how they treat you as a person. But then came the crusher…I was at a gas station mini mart getting a hot dog. A van load of Hispanic painters came in after me. One of the painters came over for a hot dog and as he was leaning next to me, thinking that I don’t speak Spanish, called me a “F---ing whitey” in his native language. My anger surged, and I firmly corrected him in his own language, and decided just for the heck of it to ask him if he had a green card. He said no more to me, and hurried on about his business, making a quick exit.
But that made me think back 40 years to those black kids in my school. I know now why they were so angry, why they were lashing out, and it feels bad to know that I may have been part of it. I felt like someone needed to apologize and make things right.
My father passed away 12 years ago. But I still speak with him. We have our talks. I have already brought this subject up with him and I think that he knows it was wrong, but he also knows that he was forgiven for it. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, but you have to mean it to give it, and you have to accept it with honesty.
Copyright 2011 By Del Banks