Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is My Family Tree Good Enough for America?

I'm no stranger to racist comments. A kid in junior high would call me by different Mexican foods every morning while we stood outside waiting for the first bell to ring. He'd come up with a new one each day. My favorite was when he would call me "tortilla", because he would without fail mispronounce it TOR-TILL-YA, which gave me an opportunity to laugh in his face and call him an idiot. Something I should have done on all the other days as well. Hindsight.

(In case you're sitting there saying tortilla to yourself and wondering what the correct pronunciation is, it's TOR-TEE-YA.) 

I'm still subject to racist comments fairly regularly, even as an adult. I've before been referred to as a wetback and though it was supposedly "in jest", it was only slightly, as are all remarks of its kind. Another time I was playing Bunco with a group of ladies and one of the women made a comment about seeing an Obama sign in someone's yard and followed it up with, "I'll bet they're Mexican." I don't know exactly what that was supposed to mean, but I was in tune enough to know she didn't mean it as a compliment. I've been part of conversations where someone will mention needing to hire someone to mow their yard or do work around their house and someone else will comment, "Go find a Mexican." And I won't even get into the things I've seen "friends" post on Facebook.

Granted, a lot of times the people who make these comments in my presence don't realize I am Mexican simply because I don't look the part. You see, I'm half white. Not that that's a valid excuse for making them in the first place, but it is what it is and the unfortunate truth is that experience has taught me to mention my heritage in casual conversation early in a relationship, simply to save them from embarrassment later on. While the "mention" usually only includes a statement like, "My dad is Mexican," the rest of the story goes like this...

My grandmother was born in Mexico in 1929. My grandfather was born in Mexico in 1926. They married at the ages of 15 and 17 in January of 1944. They had, respectively, 3rd and 6th grade educations. They came to the United States in 1945, with their first child, in hopes of providing her a better life.

They started out in a small border town called Donna, Texas. They lived there until the summer of 1954, when they moved to another small town, this one in Northeast Texas. This would be the town in which my father, the 3rd of 9 children, would meet my mother, and the town I would come to know as "home".

My grandparents were blue collar workers. They worked hard, and for many years. My grandmother worked mostly as a cook, first in a local hospital, then later in a restaurant. She was actually the "kitchen manager" at the restaurant. Her son owned it. She eventually came to be lovingly known as "Mama", and is still called that today by just about everyone who is a native to my hometown. My grandfather worked first in a local ice cream factory then, upon its closing, as a service person for a local business owner, and finally as a custodian for the high school I attended.

They worked as resident aliens for 40 years, until 1985 when they became American citizens. I was in 4th grade and still remember that day. Possibly because I got to miss school to attend their naturalization ceremony, but more likely because even at the age of 10 I was aware of what a proud moment it was for them, and our entire family.

Waiting for the ceremony to begin. My grandparents are in the middle.

A few members of my family outside the courthouse following the ceremony in which my grandparents became U.S. citizens. That's me on the right in the sweet knee socks.

My grandfather died at the age of 69 when I was a freshman in college. My grandmother is currently 86 years old.

The legacy they have created includes eighteen grandchildren. Eleven of us have college degrees. Three are currently in college working and on-track to earn a degree. From the eighteen grandchildren have come twenty-six great grandchildren. One of those is old enough to have graduated college and has since entered the police force. Another is currently in college. From my Mexican-born grandparents and their nine children, eighteen grandchildren, and twenty-six great grandchildren have come a host of contributing members to society - businessmen and women, law enforcement officers, social workers, managers, medical professionals, teachers, and accountants.

Me with my grandparents at my high school graduation. 

On paper, my grandparents didn't add up to much back when they first came to America. They were young, uneducated, and poor. But they recognized that there was opportunity for a better life in the United States. My story is just one of hundreds...thousands...probably hundreds of thousands of families who came to America with nothing in hopes of making something of themselves. And they did it despite the odds.

"The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems. These aren't the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems...they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." 
                      -Donald Trump

Mr. Trump, I take exception to your generalization of an entire country and its people. I am only the second generation of my family to be born in the United States and I find the use of fear mongering and the perpetuation of racism to support your political agenda despicable. But I must admit that there is one statement you've made on which I will agree - it turns out some Mexicans ARE good people.