Growing up in New Bedford, Mass. still remains bright in this 91-year-old’s memory. It was a time of depression and poverty for most, but it did not steer or deter us from the love and respect that we accorded each other. We lived in three- and four-story tenements. Mine had a French family and an English family living on the first floor; a Polish family and a black family on the second floor. Our family on the third floor was Portuguese alongside another Portuguese family. Neighbors were from Greece and Italy, and many black families were from the Cape Verde Islands.
As children, we went to the same schools together. We studied together and we played together. Public parks were miles away and our families had no cars so we played in the streets, i.e. until the police arrived. You can’t imagine how fast you can run and clear backyard fences until this kind of pressure is put on you. Sometimes the police would take our football. Sometimes the nicer ones would leave it in the street gutter for us. You see, all we could afford was an old sock stuffed with any rags that we could find to make up a football. So, we didn’t lose much.
Stickball was the same. At night we were usually allowed to stay out until 9 p.m. We played “Release,” “Kick the Can” and “Tag,” or we made up a game on the spot. We thought that we were the luckiest people alive and our friendships were deep. Our parents were our role models and they set the tone of life for us. This was my world.
Then World War II. The Air Corps brought me to San Antonio where, for the first time, I saw drinking fountains for “Colored” and bathrooms for “Whites Only.” Those of Mexican origin were segregated to “that” side of town.
Wow! I didn’t ask what or why. It was clear that I had just received my introduction to racism. Prior to then, I had not known that racism existed. It took me more than overnight to absorb all this. You see, my best friend as we grew up together was black. His mother and father adored me, and l thought the world of them.
Later, I arrived home from overseas. I left my friend in Massachusetts and came to the University of Texas. Time marches on. Now, it seems that racism has come to the forefront of our lives today, but the years of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still hang over us. To many, they loom as a thunderous and threatening sledge and to others they remain like a child’s security blanket.
I have read Dr. King’s compilation of speeches and have visited his memorial in Washington, D.C. I’ve always admired the man, not because his speeches highlighted the injustices thrust upon him, but because he looked to the future that could be. Always to the good and always forward; not wishing but knowing that, in his dreams, he could actually visualize our future. I, myself, am convinced that our future cannot come into being without first a dream and then a visualization.
In today’s world, I’m not sure that we haven’t lost sight of his dreams for us all. We seldom discuss that future as he saw it, but rather, we tend to dwell on the dark past. We denigrate, we disparage, we talk badly of those that do not agree with us. Have we forgotten what the future could be if we visualize it without that cloud of hate or the need to get even? I suggest that we review again Dr. King’s speeches. Be calm and “see” what he saw.
I was brought up in that kind of world and I miss it.