"Ahi viene el Negro!
(Here comes the black man)!" my grandmother would shout, trying to scare me into coming into the house as I played late into the evening when I was a boy. Her tactic didn't work. A few blocks from her house was a small black community. A man who lived there would walk by sometimes and give me a dime for teaching him Spanish. His friendliness dispersed any fear of blacks my grandmother tried to instill in me.
In the early '40s, my grandmother would take me to downtown Fort Worth to shop. There was a restaurant in the downtown area that emitted a wonderful aroma of sizzling hamburgers. I remember asking my grandmother if we could eat there.
"No nos sirven hijo
(They don't serve us, son)," she answered. "Por que abuelita?
(Why, Granny?)" I questioned. "Porque somos Mexicanos
(Because we are Mexicans)," she answered. "We are clean, and Grandma has money," I remember saying to myself as I stood on the outside looking in. At the age of 6, my grandmother and a white-owned restaurant introduced me to racism.
I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic community in North Fort Worth. Until the mid-'60s, North Main Street served as the boundary between the white and Hispanic communities in that area. Whites lived west of North Main, and Hispanics lived on the east side. Though Hispanics could go to school and shop west of North Main, it was almost impossible to rent or buy a house there.
While my grandmother tried to make me fearful of blacks, Hispanic friends pointed out to me that all white people were mean and bigoted. And though I suffered discrimination from many white individuals, just as many were kind and nice to me. Especially the white nuns in my parochial school and the white teachers in my junior and senior high schools.
As a teenager in the '50s, I soon discovered another type of discrimination. Would you believe Hispanics hating other Hispanics? For example, Hispanic airmen from neighboring Carswell Air Force Base often would get beaten, shot or stabbed by neighborhood Hispanics for simply asking a girl from our barrio (neighborhood) to dance at a local church fiesta (festival).
Here were Hispanic airmen who, because of their ethnicity, weren't allowed in white dance clubs but who weren't safe at a Hispanic festivity. Sad, wasn't it?
One of the saddest incidents of Hispanic-against-Hispanic discrimination that occurred in my old Hispanic barrio involved my friend, Moses Cardona.
Once, while talking with Moses, I asked him about a deep scar in his forearm. With tears in his eyes, he went on to tell me that when he was a teenager in the '40s, he was invited to a birthday party in the barrio. As he approached the party, Moses, a Protestant was confronted by a group of young Hispanic Catholics who cursed his faith and hurled bricks at
him. One cut a deep gash in his arm, causing the ugly scar. "James, I cry every time I think about it," he said. "It was difficult for me during those days. On one hand, the white people didn't like me because of my Mexican ethnicity, and Hispanics because of my faith," he concluded.
Later, Moses married the daughter of a prominent white politician in Fort Worth. He told me that at his wedding reception, someone asked him if his wife's family had accepted him, "Oh, yes," he replied. "However, I am having a hard time with my mother. She dislikes white women." Interesting, isn't it?
I sometimes wonder if I am a racist. After some deep soul-searching, I have come to the conclusion that I am. I honestly believe that most of us are racist. For example, I have three children, and I would like for each to marry a Hispanic. But not just any Hispanic. Would you believe a Catholic one?
Personally, I don't like some of the religious beliefs, food, or cultural habits of others. Nor do I expect them to accept mine. But I do try to respect those who are different from me, and in turn I expect them to do likewise.
Respect! What a great word and a great expression of politeness to others. We all need it, and we all need to practice it more often.
James H. Reza
4204 Grand Lake
Lake Worth, Texas 76135
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