JUST FOR BEING BROWN
In 1959 my family moved to Alaska from El Paso, the city of my birth and of my mother’s birth. That city is a sea of brown folks as I recall and later experienced with periodic visits to El Paso over the years.
Now that I’m older, I often wonder how my life would be if we had never left El Paso. Would I have experienced the level of racism I’ve encountered here in the great white north? Would I have been advised to go back where I came from? Would people automatically assume that I was born in Mexico? Would I be perceived at times to be a credit to my race (a compliment)? Would I have experienced violence from kids who didn’t like “meskins” in school? Would I have been discounted as a “minority computer artist” when applying for the job I got at the University? Would I be referred to as a “wetback” in a departmental meeting (all in jest of course)? Possibly not, but living here as a brown person has given me the strength and the tools to be any place where I am accepted only conditionally, like a visitor to a foreign country.
I have family in El Paso, and I was relieved and grateful that none of them were in the situation where they were harmed for being brown. If I lived in El Paso now, I’d be worried about getting shot by an American just for being brown, along with sharing the general discomfort of fellow Americans with terrorism from foreigners.
Growing up here in Alaska, I’ve certainly learned not to take the mouthings of assholes too seriously, and if their words were hurtful to me, they won’t get the satisfaction of knowing it. I do worry now that some of those voices will become more strident and multiply, encouraged by the type of leaders that we elect.
Alaska is my home and though I’ve never been totally enthused about the majority of people who live here, I am certainly not going back to where I came from. A guy like me could get killed!