Another Shade of Us
While reading the North Coast Journal Blogthing, I came across a horrifying but not unfamiliar reference to the experiences of people of color in Humboldt County a few years ago. I remembered how white life seemed to me as a little kid growing up here.
In the early sixties, people of color, except for the local Indian families didn’t exist. And, whatever our ancestors’ problems with the local tribes, families like the Stillwells and the Adams belonged—were part of us (or maybe we were part of them since their ancestors were here first). Anyway, many of us had Indian blood even we didn’t look like it but other people of color didn’t exist. Or, if a few exceptions were present, like the Ruiz family with their wonderful cafe, somehow they had always been here and were another shade of us.
But, inevitably, thank heavens, diversity found us and has been sending brave pioneers into the area. I’m glad my kids won’t grow up surrounded by people for whom cultural diversity means ‘is your family a church goer or a bar brawler?’
I remember when the old Wards building (where Bushnell’s Survey is now) was used by our church on Sundays for services and, before the Fourth, to sell fireworks as a fundraiser–Red Devil fireworks, (ironically) which were the best.
One day, my brother and I came back from playing in the graveyard (don’t step on the graves or yell or in anyway look like you’re having fun—it’s not respectful). We were eating our bologna and Wonder Bread sandwiches when a large black woman with a long cloth coat on came in trailing a gangling teenage son behind her. I gaped at that poor woman. I knew better than to follow her around while she was choosing fireworks from the card tables but I sure wanted a better view than out of the corner of my eye.
My staring was noticed. When his mother wasn’t looking, that boy glared and stuck out his tongue. Even at the ripe old age of 7, I was aware that I was a backward country hick with no manners and no worldly experience. I can still blush if I think about this long enough.
Now, here and there, among us are people who look a little different and have a different cultural perspective and I’m glad. I love it that, at his school, my youngest hears Spanish spoken with the liquid golden sound of a native and, here and there, other cultures have sent in settlers to pepper the life around here with a touch of something exotic. And my kids see these settlers not as unusual but, in all the most important ways, as another shade of us.