The Martin Luther King celebrations got me to thinking again about my discrimination journey in America. Actually, my thinking about this issue began with the story of the women who have come out in great numbers to confront strong men, like the President, who did them wrong.
Martin Luther King’s work on earth included emphasizing the notion that the African American is different in color and yet the same in the drive to achieve the glory of God. In the case of women, they are rediscovering their differences with men as a prelude to taking power for their own.
For Latinos, there was a time during the Chicano Movement when activist preached the differences with those who occupied the power structure. Yet they found those differences to be incomplete because the Latino community itself was in the middle of its own identity crisis.
I was born in South Texas in an area some eight miles from the Rio Grande River. My family was one that would have been Mexican if Texas and the United States had not insisted on the Rio Grande as the Mexico-US border rather the Nueces River that is in the vicinity of Corpus Christi, Texas.
We continue to live our heritage in South Texas and were reminded of our Mexican identity by others time and time again. The word Mexican in those days was used by Whites as they would use the “N” word for Blacks.
The spiritual leaders of our very tight-nit migrant labor community taught us to accept that misshapen view of ourselves as part of the suffering we should endure to merit God’s heavenly rewards. After all, the streets of gold and the ivory abodes were more than enough to make up for the terrible treatment on earth.
At the age of 17, I entered military service, found myself in Europe and took the opportunity to travel to various countries by train and plane. The inferiority complex that I brought with me mellowed out as a result of experiencing the cultural dynamics of Europe’s different peoples.
It was not until I returned to Denver that I began to assimilate the meaning of the knowledge I acquired abroad. I also found a photostatic copy of my original birth certificate dated less than year after I was born that made my journey even more personal.
The birth certificate was filled out by a third party because at that time, my father did not know how to read and write and my mother was in no condition to fill out the form. Also, my father’s name was misspelled by someone who did not know Spanish and could only write what he or she heard in English.
What intrigued me the most was the section that asks the “Color or Race” of both mom and dad. It was filled out as “White.”
This designation on my birth certificate deepened the anger that I had been accumulating under the surface. It was then that I finally realized how terribly unfair it was to carry the scars of discrimination and how much the culprit community had to do to regain my trust.
The Chicano Movement was a welcomed set of events that offered the opportunity to pursue justice in a country that historically demanded a lot in blood and treasure and in return, offered much less than its promise. Today I am seeing the U.S. Latino community coming together with the new immigrants to make way for the emergence of a new America.