The Untouchables

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

We should not be shocked or stunned by the decrees issued around the world for “social distancing.” This is a practice that the world has flaunted and advanced on and off since before the socialization of man, and before the rise of epidemics or pandemics.

THE UNTOUCHABLES

By Al Garcia

We should not be shocked or stunned by the decrees issued around the world for “social distancing.” This is a practice that the world has flaunted and advanced on and off since before the socialization of man, and before the rise of epidemics or pandemics.

Every period of world history has had its “untouchables” – people to be avoided based on political or religious association, cultural or social affiliation, ethnic or racial linkage, or national or ancestral connections. America, and more specifically, the Rio Grande Valley, were no exception.

From the Depression Era (1919-1921), World War II (1922-1027), the Post-War Cohort (1928-1945), and finally to my generation, which has the nomenclature of “Boomers I or the Baby Boomers” (1946-1954), America was riddled with hate-filled bigotry and segregation of every type. There was a “circle the wagons” mentality to keep the “untouchables” or socially undesirables at a distance or totally out of certain communities, eating and drinking establishments, educational institutions, political organizations and even military services.

This was a reality of life in America and the Valley. A reality that many of my generation and earlier generations experienced first-hand. It may not have been publicly “decreed” or ordered by governmental mandate or direction, but nonetheless, America had its “untouchable,” and in the Valley of my era, I was one of those “untouchables.”

As an American of Mexican heritage, and brown in color, I was deemed an “undesirable” or “untouchable.” I was young, naïve and unable to fully understand or comprehend the significance of the bigotry and segregation against people of my color and with my heritage. All I knew at that early stage of my life, was that I was different because I was treated differently, spoken to differently, and looked at differently than other Americans whose ancestry and heritage was white and mostly European.

And, like many of my generation and earlier generations of brown-skinned Americans of Mexican descent, for most of my life I succeeded in concealing my memories of life as an “untouchable,” beneath tears and smiles and cavalier politeness and graciousness, as that was the way I was brought up back then. It was the unspoken adage of my time growing up in the Valley -- endure and persevere. And I, like so many, did just that.

Life back then was color-coded, with white topping the list of the privileged and the advantaged, while yellow, black and brown-skinned individuals were at the bottom of the list, representing the segregated, the isolated and the ghettoized – in other words, the “untouchables.”

One particular lasting memory of my childhood while living in the community of Hargil, near Edinburg, was one Easter when I was six or seven years of age. A classmate’s parent announced that they would be having an Easter party at their home for the entire first grade. There was excitement and anticipation in the air. The day came. The entire class was driven to my classmate’s home in a school bus. We arrived to see a beautiful home and matching lawn, with tables full of cakes and fruit and sandwiches. But the one thing that caught my eye was the six-foot tall Easter Basket wrapped in clear plastic. Inside I could see a giant-sized Easter Bunny, and candies wrapped in shinny paper – blues, pinks and greens. And here we were, the little brown kids with their handmade paper bag Easter baskets we had made in class, walking around in awe at the sight before us. All white mothers and dads, and not a single brown-skinned adult, other than the maids. This memory remains with me to this day, and I can still feel the coldness and isolation that I felt as a little brown boy in world I was being denied.

Today’s “social distancing” is certainly based on a crisis of global proportion, rather than simply on the bigotry, intolerance or racial segregation of the past. Yet, the connotation and insinuation of “social distancing” brought back memories of my childhood and of growing up in a world when social distancing was practiced for an entirely different purpose, and having nothing to do with a virus or a disease, but rather a mental affliction that clouded the human sense of decency and respect. Yet, the stigma remains for those of us who once experienced the intolerance and the humiliation. For me, it has lasted a lifetime, hidden in the recesses of my mind.

I agree with the social distancing being practiced across the globe today in order to get the upper hand on the Coronavirus. I agree with the need to stay apart and separated for as long as is required. It is a human “social distancing,” not targeting groups or individuals by color, race, ethnicity or religion. I know that this “social distancing” will only last for weeks or months, and not for generations, as in the past.

I can cope with being an “untouchable” again. But this time, however, there will be no stigma or shame, but rather a sense of patriotism and duty at having done my part as an American and a member of the human race.


Submitted: May 23, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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