I live in a world that is mostly not white. I have never noticed it as such. It has however occurred to me lately how rude the Mexicans are to me sometimes. They are a dominant feature of this town. It cannot be helped I guess that the people who come here, to the land of my hard-working forefathers and foremothers, often act rudely to the next white person that they see. I am not a white person who has sought hegemony in Mexico; I have not sought my dominance in a place that I know so little of, as if I had that right, to disrespect it and its landscape.
I was travelling home on the bus this morning with my young person. She was sleeping at the time, so she has no memory of this incident. I was looking off into the distance as the sun came out and I could once again see fully out the windows. The unseasonable damp had started to dry, the pavement would soon lighten into its accustomed pale cement shade which we associate with summer. An old man walked up the narrow brief stair of the bus entry. He wore a warm corduroy jacket with the lapel pulled up to his narrow jaw. The corduroy was good, but its color was no longer true. He stood for a good while until he could obtain a seat. I sat mid-bus. My feet were swollen. I myself was in no position to stand during the abrupt affair of constant stops and starts offerred up by the impatient driver who seemed to like to gun the motor and wheel into the curb abruptly. A Mexican Man in his Thirties sat on the bench seat on left side, in front, along with a Polynesian university girl who was looking rather alertly for her stop near the college. Between the two of them they occupied three seats. The (black) driver did not seem to notice. The old (white) man was the only old one on the bus, I observed. And he went without a seat.
The young college girl -- prettied up for the day in earrings and pulled back, well-combed hair, sat.
The Thirty-something Mexican man, sat.
The people on the opposite bench seat, sat.
And the (white) man stood. I just thought I would add that he was white because no one else was. I just thought I would add that I am white, and that I felt white on the bus at that moment. It is not hard to feel threatened when you understand, deep inside yourself, what is really going on.
The girl got off at her much-looked-for stop. The old man took her place. She did not look back. She did not notice anything wrong.
Was it his age? Certainly not. Anyone could see that the man could barely stand. He tried to hold on. He did not stand upright. Anyone who saw him there and then saw first his frailty except those who were cruel enough to see that he was white.
There is a group of students on the local San Jose State University campus who rationalize the need for overt favors to immigrants (you can find their signs posted around town), but based on what I have seen here I think that they are really just self-promoters looking for an easy way to the riches all of us seem to desire. I would guess that many of them -- as was the case with their peer today -- simply do not see the value of a human being without first identifying the race of that person. But for them, racism only works one way.
Just yesterday a thirty-something man on the lightrail train sitting two seats behind me was talking with the man sitting next to him. The speaker was Vietnamese, as he firmly and repeatedly identified himself. I could not help but hear his over-spoken diatribe: that China is the best country, that they have the best economy; that China is smart, should take over Vietnam. And that he would go home someday. He was eating our food, breathing our American air. And he was bold enough to assert the preeminence of China in the hearing of my child. China is number one, he was careful to note in the hearing of the Americans on the tax-payer funded train he was riding on. He was critical. It was only natural, he implied. It would happen. I was stunned. I had never heard anything like this. When I encountered him again later (quite an unfortunate surprise) at the nearby market where I was shopping for breakfast bagels and juice, I called him a Communist under my breath. I haven't repeated here everything I heard. But now you know what I know, what I felt, at the time. I was being wiped clean of the relevance of my ancestors and of my American culture. I was being told that my country was weak, and owned. I was the dirty cloth by which that man would achieve his goals then move back to Vietnam with the good graces of the United States behind him.
I was using the computer today. We had gotten to know the staff. They were collegiates, stiff in spine, good folks who volunteered their time to help folks in need, regardless. I note that Cynthia is white because, now, most of her kind have disappeared from the staff in that office. While she was supremely capable, she did not speak Spanish. They already have many Spanish-speakers on staff. But she was no longer required -- on that basis alone -- just the same. Since when is it more important in this country to speak Spanish than English? I grew up listening to Jane Pauley and Tom Brockaw on The Today Show, two articulate journalists whom I respected for that quality. I was still in high school when I tuned in every morning to hear the various topics of the day duly treated and discussed. They used to say in general during that time that it counted to speak English well. That English was the pathway to success. I read my English Dictionary everyday. I grew my English vocabulary like a garden. I loved my language. I self-consciously practice it to this day.
When did it become more important to be Mexican than American in America? As far as I understand my history, America acquired California in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California is ours. It is mine. It is American.
My ancestors came here from Wales. They were pioneers. They came the hard way, before the railroad. They had faith. Their family was good. They mined here. They raised their family here. They lived here. They claimed the land in a way that the Mexicans were unwilling to do when it was theirs. These Welsh ancestors furthermore spoke the English language. Daniel Bradford Richards, one of the members of the Richards family whom I wrote about in an earlier post, is the child of good gold-rush pioneers, grandson of the Welshman and Welshwoman who came to America in the 1830s, my great-great grandparents. They came across the Atlantic, on faith alone. Daniel became a San Francisco lawyer and a pre-eminent occupant of the famous Monadnock building. He could not speak Spanish. But it was America, then as now. English is what mattered. He studied, He gained the respect of the people around him. He grew his English the way his forebears perhaps had not done in Wales. What mattered was studying his lessons (they worked hard at their lessons, the children of that generation). What mattered was being good at what he did, helping people, and knowing the good English language. This family succeeded because they cared, worked hard, and spoke the language of their new country. They would be truly American. I cannot say this about many of the Japanese, Chinese and Mexican people I see and hear everyday around me in this city, people who insist on the culture and the language of their forebears, who daily speak something other than English in our American ears and dare to take from the resources of America at the same time. At this rate, no one will know who the Pilgrims were in a generation's time. Mao, kimonos and quincineras will be all that matters here, in the land of the free, where we do not dare to stand for ourselves as real Americans anymore. I am only a mother. One who has spent her lifetime securing her family history to pass on. I see what I see. And I record it as I see it.
Signed, Your friendly neighborhood genealogist and proud Californian.