Growing Up Brown

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

Several years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Growing Up Brown.” It was my recollection of growing up in a divided America, and in a time filled with bigotry, hate and discrimination.

GROWING UP BROWN

By Al Garcia

Several years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Growing Up Brown.”  It was my recollection of growing up in a divided America, and in a time filled with bigotry, hate and discrimination. 

As I grew up, I adapted, adjusted and assimilated to 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.  And I was taught well.

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, I settled, like many of my kind and my heritage, for second and even third-class status, in an America that I was a part of from my first breath of life.  I was as American as anyone else born within these United States on that day in November, 1948.  I took a breath -- and my heart, my mind, my soul, began to form the outline of my life.  The only thing that made me different from the many others born on that day, was the color, the shade, the tint, of my skin.  I was born brown.  A layer of skin that made my heart, my mind and my soul inferior, and my existence inconsequential and insignificant.  I was born to be hurt and to be treated and seen as a lesser human being than all those others born on that day in November, who were “blessed” to be born with the chosen color skin.  And so, I was taught to accept my place, and to tolerate and endure the humiliation and indignity, simply because I was brown.

So, when the recent protests began, and when I saw and felt the passion and the rage of generations past erupt like a long-smoldering volcano, I felt the weight of my own duplicitous and even traitorous life, begin to lift, and I began to breath.  I saw people in the streets.  Black, Brown, White, Yellow – a rainbow of humanity – finally realizing and accepting the truth of America’s infidelity to the nobility of the American dream -- 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.

I suddenly realized that to feel the passion and the rage, is to see the exposed and tattered soul of America through tears and fears too long endured, and too long nurtured and emboldened by contaminated minds and ravaged hearts. 

For once I knew that to feel the passion and the rage that I was witnessing in the streets across America, was to sense the contempt that has for too long trampled human decency and compassion over the pigmentation or shade of our reflections.  For, I know from having lived my life, that what lies beneath the colored hues of human flesh defines the spectrum and the harmony of the breathing human rainbow of creation. 

I have known for far too long, that it is the festering wounds of unachieved ambitions and disenchanted lives that breeds and proliferates the hatred and the bigotry toward those who dare to dream and dare to see beyond the boundaries of their past.  And I know too, that it is the idealists and romantics of every age, of every color, of every type, who feel the passion and the rage of this moment, and who sense the changing rhythm of the consciousness of an awakening nation.

This time in our history has also illuminated the netherworld of Make America Great Again, and its white-robed and hooded nationalists and disillusioned and sullied bible-thumping hypocrites and racists, along with weak-minded men and women of no substance or character, who are attempting to divide us, and to tarnish the great heritages and legacies that have made America the great melting pot of the world. 

Deep down I know that to feel the passion and the rage for black and brown lives stolen, is to acknowledge the evil and the intimidation that surrounds us.  To say their names, is to feel the last few moments of their lives.  To say their names, is to sense the hopelessness they lived.  To say their names, is to shed the tears that veiled their fear.

I saw and felt the campaign of hate and fear, of division and partition, and of apathy and callousness, reignited in Tulsa at a rally of ravaged and damaged souls.  I saw faces devoid of decency or pride.  I felt the blackness of their hearts and the emptiness of their souls.  And I heard the voices of their contempt and disdain, as they uttered allegiance and fidelity to the vile and malevolent evil cloaked in deceptive and false patriotic rhetoric and counterfeit religious piety.  And I was ashamed for those in attendance, and for those that have chosen to allow the darkness of evil to extinguish the light of truth, of decency and of humanity.

So, when I wrote “Growing Up Brown,” I had just begun to expose the demons of my past.  Since then, I have written other articles and commentaries of memories and recollections that that have haunted my mind, and tarnished my soul.  To now see the awakening of the American conscience in a rainbow of colors and of voices, not only here in America but around the world, gives me hope in the nobility of our humanity. 

Below is what I wrote over two years ago.  It is about memories of my childhood and my coming to terms with growing up brown in a place and at a time when the outline of my soul was just beginning to be formed. 

 

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Here is what I wrote back then: 

As I sit beneath the shade of my backyard patio enjoying the breeze of a beautiful March morning, my mind begins to wonder, as the sounds of the awakening day begins the timeworn ritual of the force of life in every form and manner.  I hear the chirping of a bird or two and the rustling of tree branches in the breeze.  I see the color of life in the grass that covers the ground and in the blooming flowers that immerse my yard with the fragrance of existence.  And then I hear the joyful resonance of my windchimes, completing the symphony of sight and smell and sound.  It is the blossoming of the new day, and I am a part of the majesty and the magic that surrounds me.

It is times like these, quiet and serene, when my mind begins to wonder to yesterdays and times gone by, when as a boy along the Rio Grande I ran barefooted on a country road, or went on a childhood safari, hunting for frogs, grasshoppers, lizards and other small creatures that thrived in the cornfields, cottonfields, orchards and waterways in the Valley along the Rio Grande.  Those were my days of carefree innocence and simplicity.  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 why.

Childhood memories.  They linger and endure through each stage of your life, and help shape the man or woman you eventually become.  As a child and young adult, I concealed my memories 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 -- endure and persevere.  And so, I did. 

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 us 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.

One of my most lasting memories of childhood was one Easter, when 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 life-size 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, 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.

The recent charged debate in our national discourse has brought back these memories of growing up brown in the Valley.  It has brought back memories of personal recollections like my first grade experience as a six year old, as well as stories I recall growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of anti-Mexican violence, segregated restaurants and other accommodations where Mexicans were not welcomed, and all perfectly legal here in the Valley under what was then known as the “Juan Crow” laws.  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 of the costs and consequences of the prejudice and hate of a generation.  Yet I was taught to endure and persevere.  And so, I did. 

And here I am today, enjoying a morning drink beneath my patio in my country club home.  How the years have passed and how the times have changed.  My nephews and my nieces may never know or experience the indignity of being brown as I did as a child and young adult, and I am glad for that.  But each time I hear the political rhetoric from the right or the left that fills our airways and the beltways of every city and every town across our land, 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.

Just when I thought the only color I had to be concerned about was choosing the color of my drapes, or the color of the tile for my sunroom, I am confronted with memories that I would never wish upon my nephews or my nieces.  For when they reach the time in their lives when they get to sit beneath their own outdoor patio, enjoying a beautiful March 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: June 08, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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