RACISM! ChaWeenie! By Heidi Robertson 7/17/2013
Racism has been stalking me this week. Hovering like like a narcissistic Jim Carey in “The Cable Guy,” sick and needing Valley Mental Health. Pathetic “friend” I thought I had gotten rid off. Changed the locks to. Sent packing and looking for abundance in available lap lanes over a lunch hour, when I suddenly became afraid of the water, which is so not like me.
Jim Crow nearly raised his head at the Kamas Rec. Center. I was basking in the abundance of available lap lanes over lunch hour, when I suddenly became afraid of the water, which is so not like me. A youthful supervisor that my kids used to swim against asked a favor. I paused and looked up through smokey, sun-dried swim goggles, water plugging both ears. Rendered rather blind and deaf, I could barely hear her ask, “Would it be alright it we share your lane to do some Merit Badge stuff in the deep end? Just on the edge?” The burden of an answer hung in the humid air. A few seconds of think time turning to delayed cognition. What would I say?
I could sort of make out the fuzzy shape of three shadows and an instructor Supervisor. Established they were male, Mexican-Americans. A dad, and two sons. They stood in a manner suggesting it was “dad’s idea,” not theirs. Perhaps in town for holiday, or Scout Camp needing to sign off Swimming and Lifesaving as prerequisite. With mermaid ease finned from front crawl to vertical dolphin, in an effort to adapt a legless egg beater, puffed out my chest and answered, “Sure, I’ll just swim along the lane line here.” But I didn’t really puff out my chest. Too exposing. Just wanted to. If this had been the case, I would have felt shiny scales constict and dialate with pride, feeling endowed. Instead I went slack, sunk to indifferent, to self centered, to sad, to shriveled starfish.
The answer sounded good, but felt a lie. The accompanying intention, and fact that my face lacked the usual jovial smile, indicated that I was not particularly thrilled about the compromise. Fact is, I was initially put out. So I spent the next ten or twenty laps coming to terms with the sorry answer. Wondered how my swim buddies read my body language? Would I have been put out if they had been white, or perhaps Park City stock. Would I have been put out if it had been some kids that I had known or taught before at school. Regretful that I was not resonating mystic energy at that juncture. Regretful that I was feeling even worse now. Flip turned to another stream of consciousness in which I was pulling and kicking with ease, wearing a swimming merit badge on my bikini, and feeling proud to be advocating coconuts.
This version of reality didn’t fit any better than the bikini. Resigned to sacrifice what in reality should have been the perfect, uninterupted cool contented lap swim. My state of mind traded ideal for an imagined, impaired, Lake Powell hottub swim. Going nowhere good in brain “waters,” eventually the visitors’ feet-first entries and brick retrievals were over. So I thought.
Then one of the boys stayed on and continue swimming laps, quite well actually. This is when Jim Crow attempted dunking me. Well, why shouldn’t he be a good swimmer?! He was a great swimmer! Why couldn’t he be just as good a swimmer as me. He was me, except his being male, Mexican and thirty years my junior? He was a young boy, my muscular superior in strength and speed. Not stamina. No Long Gutierrez who is competing for Mexico in the World Championships in Barcelona this month, but this kid would help our swim team… a lot!
Still, I found no solace in swimming that day. And I was a bit sore for awhile, having worked some muscles I’d forgotten, since I was Latina in the Mexican American Student Association, with Juan, at TLC. Ultimately, I felt I had failed my profe’.
It had been a long while since I’d done right by Juan. Ten years ago I had been a better freedom fighter. At least ten years since I’d given the late Justin Hale a pink slip for calling Janet’s brother a “Dirty Beaner,” on the bus. Justin had brought Eddie to tears. A few years later Justin had opted NOT to ride the bus, brandishing a new drivers license and a cell phone. The pejorative comment that had landed him a week of rides with mommy, but never an apology was long gone. Forgiven and forgotten the day he died. Crashed and burned into a Peoa hillside. Texting and driving. Snubbed out….a young, foolish life, but his message never erased from Eduardo’s memory. I felt I’d been a good public defender that day. Almost the Lone Ranger. Wow! A hero with a subjugated, misrepresented side kick. Was I just another Jim Crow shadow dancer?
Long after I had given up my CDL for keys to the classroom, and fins for the pool, I was a mentor, swim coach. I swam along side hermanita Janet, encouraged her to keep up grades, and to eat more. Swam beside her, through her own Jim Crow’s and depression and cutting tendencies. Taught her how to surface from a dive. How to smile. We grew to be friends. She endearingly called me “Coach,” was my student aide, and invited me to graduation and fiesta with an announcement in Spanish. I missed both in going on vacation. I let her down. I hear she’s getting married now. Hope she’s happy and not sacrificing college.
For awhile, I felt I had redemed myself. Like I’d really arrived in the Latino community, frequenting Nina’s Mexican Market. Buying nopales. Helping Nina practice her English, me my Spanish. Assigning Cesar Chavez to my fourth grade Rodriguezes. Fielding second language office calls in a pinch. Digging clams and discussing discrimination in literature. Eating homemade tacos in the back room with the Ponces. I was deceived.
And then I Juandered back to profe’, meeting him again on Facebook, trying on second introductions, retractions, in an absentminded professing moment found myself pinballing Luminosity, in and out of Plato’s Cave. Reading, writing poetry and telling my stories. The same changed girl turned woman. Heavy on the woes, leary of men but wanting them. Free of former chains, and yet not. Still faint, and dizzy in his double meanings. Making out shadows and desperately trying not to mistake feelings in the translation of “cave” for “love shack.” Back to feeling exquisitely again, and not just running in circles imagining it. Or was I dreaming?
I know I can’t look back at those flames hoping to find truth mingled with lust mingled with scripture, but I am tempted to peek. Wanting reconciliation, and understanding. Just platonic love and friendship as equals. Can I get this?
Don’t know. I fear the lover I left behind will forever be the suitor. And what if….as long as he chases, I will run? That is the game. Or even worse will I give in and go to him unlocking chastity belts. If not in flesh, in writing. Fear the white girl he seduced will never understand her chains, his chains. Cursed to live forever in inequality and iniquity in skin and mind. Hope for… is forever lost. Hopeless is age and health, hopeless is distance, hopeless is other spouses, hopeless is homes and children. But not hopeless in heart. Forever hopeful, forever writing, forever feeling. So now you know. I am human, and as such I will fail, and fail again. This I also know, where there is love, Jim Crow cannot thrive.
So yesterday, we vowed to go computer free. I went off to take a driving test. I pulled into the crowded parking lot, where on the roof of Job Services I saw a crow. So often seeing magpies, hearing turtle doves, I had hoped that this would be one of those. No. A crow! A sign that something was about to happen. Something just short of a beanfield war.
A young hispanic man, my son’s age, was taking his driving test. He was looking in a drivers handbook, as was the girl on my right, and a fifty-something woman on my left. I was the only one NOT looking at any book, I was watching the altercation. One of the DMV workers navigated the young man’s blindside and honked that he was not supposed to be “cheating.” Road raging first and second tries at researching. Loud speaking scores. I could see he was well practiced: effortlessly interogating, verbally bullying, wetbacking him in public. I wanted to be brave in the moment and stand up spouting, ” Leave him alone! Hey, look around, everbody is looking in their books. What’s the big deal? Only, I said nothing. The proctor finally caught himself in our watchful eyes and interrupted examinations. They left, but the negative energy lingered. Continued fingering answer selections feeling squeemish.
This is likely why I failed my test twice, not the fact that I only studied while waiting here in the loby. I was so ashamed of my inaction. Still am. So I was glad when John Quinuonez did not come out from some crazy exciting DMV inner sanctum with cameras rolling for an interview. Because I felt myself UNworthy of a “What Would You Do?: 20/20 episode.” In that moment, I had “Plato caved.” Disappointed myself and profe’. This felt worse than not passing the (Motorcycle Operation Manual) Mom test, in spite of being honest. I had studied my whole life for that moment, and still blew it! I could have been the young man’s mom. Would someone have done the same to my Italian second language learner, Donavon? Somehow a motorcycle endorsement seemed pretty insignificant now to this motorcycle mama.
I don’t know if the young man could read English very well or not. No one had told him he couldn’t use the book, as opposed to me. Another employee told me three times it was a closed book test. Not this young man. This was profiling. I had just witnessed Jim Crow. So in my failure, I rose in imperfection. Walked that longggggg, humiliating walk from the test computers, past several other bored, but smiling Latinos, wondering if these other Latinos had heard and seen and lived what I had witnessed. Likely so. I wondered what they were thinking. Were they judging too? I cowered like an abused dog under their smiles, told the nice picture girl I hadn’t passed, learned options, and left. Reeling. Looking for relief and a better feeling…
Feeling better is what my sister Wendy was going for just yesterday on Facebook. She was reconciling differences in her post. On Sunday we were all but out the door, being greeted and seated, dreaming cheese cakes at the only restaurant open on the Sabath at City Creek (SLC) when conversation went to the dogs. My niece and sister had just purchased a new pet. The long and short of it was: after the death of Copper, Dachshund, and Cooper, Dachshund, they were looking for another…. Chaweenie! A mixed Mexican breed.
Somehow conversation turned to Shizweenie! And people eating dogs. And Wendy said, “Don’t people eat dogs in Mexico?” My ears became peaked much like a German Shepherd. And in what became a defining moment, I made the fatal error in rebutting. This time instead of piping up, I should have kept quiet. I said, “That’s a racist comment.” This was not taken well. She stutter stepped, but held her position. I said, “I think you may be confusing some other culture? I don’t know….maybe Vietnamese. Vietnamese. Vietnamese. Vietnamese. And again, Vietnamese.”
For fear of not being heard, or perhaps for emphasis, I had said this no less than five times, in an unintentional insult to injury. In fact my nephew started counting on his fingers. I had quelled Jim Crow, but sadly nearly killed my sister. At least strained the already distant tie. But, damn! I had taken a stand. Hmm. Then in rebutal to the first rebutal, my sister puctuated with the post, “I hate racism. I love people of all colors….blah, blah, blah.” I didn’t want to read anymore….hear, feel anything, anymore. I fear we are all racist, whether we want to be or not.