When White Was Better than Brown

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

Imagine a place where the color of your skin determined your place in society, your treatment (or mistreatment), your ability to thrive or even your ability to simply survive. Imagine being marginalized and ostracized, not for what you’ve said or done, but rather, because of the color of your skin, or the origin of your familial roots. The darker your skin on the brown scale, the more profound, extreme and intense the prejudice and bigoty and intolerance. Imagine such existence and such a reality.

WHEN WHITE WAS BETTER THAN BROWN

By Al Garcia

Imagine a place where the color of your skin determined your place in society, your treatment (or mistreatment), your ability to thrive or even your ability to simply survive.  Imagine being marginalized and ostracized, not for what you’ve said or done, but rather, because of the color of your skin, or the origin of your familial roots.  The darker your skin on the brown scale, the more profound, extreme and intense the prejudice and bigoty and intolerance.  Imagine such existence and such a reality. 

Many of us don’t have to imagine such a place or such a world.  All we have to do is remember.  Remember the stories and the recollections of our parents and grandparents who lived the unimaginable.  Many of us of my generation can even recall instances of observing and even experiencing the prejudice, intolerance and bigotry, during the waning and fading days before we found our voice and began to lift the racial barriers that had long suppressed the brown-skinned people of the Rio Grande Valley. 

I am one of those born in the Rio Grande Valley, old enough to remember.  My parents were both born in the Valley by the Rio Grande.  Their parents were part of the settlement of the area we now call the Rio Grande Valley.  They suffered and toiled through years of hardship and adversity, to mold and sculp the land into what it is today.  My ancestors were the true Texans before there was a Texas.  It was because of their vision and their faith that my parents and then I, came to be. 

Unfortunately, it was also my ancestors who saw “illegal American settlers” flood into their lands along the Rio Grande.  It was my ancestors who fought to hold on to the trophies attained with their blood, sweat and tears – the lands along the Rio Grande which once had laid barren and bleak.  Eventually, the prized lands along the Rio Grande -- nurtured, cultivated and developed by brown-skinned dreamers and pioneers like my ancestors, were soon overtaken by American settlers.  Also overtaken were the lives and souls of those who had labored and transformed a desolate delta into a new and flourishing valley.  My ancestors were now strangers in their own land.  Once proud and dignified, the original pioneers of the Valley were now dehumanized and brutalized.  And the story of the Rio Grande Valley began. 

While growing up in the Valley, I heard stories my parents told about a people and a culture that once thrived along the Rio Grande.  A people with character, dignity, strength and faith.  A people with dreams and vision – proud and strong.  And I was a descendant of those individuals. 

I heard about the lands that had once belonged to my ancestors, taken away in the 1920s and 1930s by the new “American” pioneers and their new “laws.”  I heard how relatives were killed, and even lynched, and how the dreams that once helped to build the valley along the Rio Grande were shattered and crushed.  This was part of the history of the Valley I grew up in.  This was what I saw around me as I grew up in the fields and groves that once were part of my ancestral heritage and legacy, but were no more.  This was the Valley I grew up in with my parents – a place where we were second class citizens -- where once we owned the lands, now we toiled those same lands and fields. 

My generation remembers this, and so much more.  Even as a child, I remember my parents’ submissive and docile behavior when speaking with or dealing with White Texans.  I never really knew why.  I never asked.  I just thought that that was the way it was meant to be – that for some reason, Whites were better than Browns.  And as a young kid growing up in the Valley, that was an abysmal view of life.  And for many years thereafter, that was my life in the Valley.  Whites were better than Browns.  Imagine feeling this way through grade school, elementary school and even high school.  Imagine feeling inferior – and the darker brown your shade of skin, the more inferior one would feel – and I had dark brown skin. 

How things have changed.  It took almost a lifetime to see the beginning of the breakdown of the barriers between White and Brown.  It took decades of struggles, studying, questioning, speaking up and standing up, to finally be considered “almost” equal, human and worthy of consideration and respect.  Yet, nothing has really changed – we are still Brown, we are still the same as our ancestors were way back then.  Like then, we have a heart, a soul, intelligence, dreams and hopes – just like Whites had way back then.  So, what made us less human, less worthy of respect, less worthy of consideration, back then?  The only answer I can come up with, after all these years, is greed and power! 

My generation helped to expose the hypocrisy of life in the Valley in the 1950s and 1960s.  We educated ourselves in spite of barriers and walls placed in front of us.  We thrived in professions and vocations that did not involve cotton fields or citrus groves.  We began to speak up, and we began to demand respect.  Now, the new generation of Chicanos and Mexican-Americans continue where we left off. 

Yet, when the immigration issue arose again as a national dialogue some time ago, the memories and stories of dehumanizing brown-skinned people flooded back into my mind.  I remembered when we were them.  When we too were considered “illegals” and subhuman in our own land, in our own America, simply because we had brown skin.  To have seen the prejudice, bigotry and hatred unveiled along the Rio Grande once again -- when mothers and children were separated and caged – brought back memories I had hoped were long gone and forgotten.  Evidently, brown skin continues to be seen as inferior, unsatisfactory, unacceptable – and I look in the mirror and see that I still have brown skin -- time, education and affluence has not changed that.

And after all these years of growing and evolving, the one thing that seems to have remained intact and untouched by time, is the prejudice and bigotry that humans seem intent on accepting and fostering. 

One must have experienced prejudice, bigotry and even hatred to be able to see it, hear it, sense it, remember it, and to be able to condemn it.  It is too easy to follow, and much harder to lead.  What I saw in the Valley with the “no tolerance” immigration policy recently, was a new Chicano/Mexican-American culture that was benevolent but voiceless – unsure whether to follow, or whether to lead the cry of outrage. 

What I saw in the Valley and across the nation was that White is still better than Brown, regardless of how far we think we may have come. 


Submitted: June 20, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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