A Shade of Brown

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

I was born into a divided America, and into a time filled with bigotry, hate and discrimination. Seventy years later, the animosity lingers, the enmity more selective and more strident, and the acrimony more piercing and lethal

A SHADE OF BROWN

By Al Garcia

I was born into a divided America, and into a time filled with bigotry, hate and discrimination.  Seventy years later, the animosity lingers, the enmity more selective and more strident, and the acrimony more piercing and lethal.  You see, I was born a shade of brown. 

I grew up, and I adapted, adjusted and assimilated into the white-run world around me.  I was taught to embrace the culture that degraded and humiliated me and my heritage, and those that I loved.  How strange to live by the words once uttered at a sermon on a mount.  How extraordinary for a boy my age to be taught to love his enemies and his detractors, and actually attempt to live by the suggestion and implication of the homily.  The nobility of my heritage was based on honor, respect, obedience and faith.  I had no choice, but to accede and learn and stay within the bounds of accepted and expected customs and practices.  Basically, I was taught to endure and persevere.

Now, I find myself confronted with truths that make me weep inside.  I was a traitor to myself, to my heritage, to my country.  I was a traitor for not having stood up for the idea and the ideal that was America then, and now -- that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet, like many of my kind and my heritage, I settled for the simplicity of existence as opposed to the fulfilment of a dream, simply because of the color of my skin – a shade of brown. 

Today, the demons of my past that had laid dormant within me, have surfaced and awaken in me the need to acknowledge what has haunted my mind and tarnished my soul for so long – my inability to feel complete and whole as the man I have become, simply because of the trauma of having lived in a time and in a place that left me thinking I was less than equal, less than worthy, than those of a lighter shade of skin.  Imagine what was going on in my evolving boyish mind.  I was treated differently, lived differently, believed differently – so maybe they were right.

Those were the days of the innocence and simplicity of my youth.  Those were the days before I grew up and realized that everything revolved and evolved around color – the color of your skin.  And I was only six when I stumbled upon this great epiphany, and suddenly I was no longer the skinny, black haired, big-eared, brown-skinned innocent kid anymore.  I was a part of a minority.  I was labeled.  I felt different.  I felt diminished and minimized.  I was a part of a community of second-class citizens, and I couldn’t understand exactly why.

Childhood memories.  They linger and endure through each stage of your life, and they help shape the man or woman you eventually become.  As a child and young adult, I concealed my memories beneath tears and smiles, and the cavalier politeness and graciousness that I was taught.

Looking back, I believe my life’s lessons with regard to color began with my first year in school.  I noticed immediately that Sally and Johnnie and Jimmy where being treated differently than Juan, Octavio and Maria.  They dressed in store-bought clothes, lived in nicer homes and their parents drove nice cars and trucks, while I and other brown kids dressed in handmade clothes or hand-me-downs, and we lived in farm houses and ranches owned by white owners, and our fathers drove old dilapidated trucks, while our mothers stayed home, sewing, cleaning and baking.  This was the real world back then. A time when color ruled.

The attitude in our American psyche of a return to the supremacy of color and of race has brought back these memories of growing up brown in the Rio Grande Valley.  It has brought back memories of personal recollections, as well as stories I recall growing up anti-Mexican violence, segregated restaurants and other accommodations where individuals of Mexican descent were not welcomed.  These were the “Juan Crow” (Jim Crow) years.  Today, once again, the “Juan Crow” idea of segregation and intimidation is gaining momentum in State Legislatures across our nation.

So yes, childhood memories can be of laughter and joy, but unfortunately sometimes they can also be memories of the early lessons of society’s bigotries that forever leave an imprint in a child’s mind, with costs and consequences of the prejudice and hate that can forever leave an imprint in the evolving mind of anyone, especially a child.

How sad that a shade of brown forever changed my life.  It is sad to know that the color of one’s skin can determine how you’re treated and perceived still today.  Each time I hear the political rhetoric from the right or the left with regard to race relations or specific atrocities inflicted because of hate or intolerance, my heart beings to ache at the thought that America is returning to a place and a time that belongs in our history, not in our future.  America is a place and a state-of-mind that moves forward, not a place that stagnates and festers in its own decaying history.

For those young brown people who will eventually reach the time in their lives when they get to sit beneath their own outdoor patio, enjoying a beautiful May morning, and recalling their days of innocence, I wish their memories to be of laughter and of joy, of times with family and with friends, and with the only reference and memories of color, being only the brilliance of the colors of our flag, flying high and flying free.


Submitted: May 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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