Another Shade of Us

Planter, hanging, black and white
Planter in Black and White

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.

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22 comments

  • Before moving back to the coast, we spent 11 LONG years in Nevada, very undiverse unless you’re seeing the difference between say…huntin’ boots and ridin’ boots. Camo and cowboy. There was the occasional native or “working girl” (neither would thought highly of…) but my kids went to school with mostly white folks. I was very happy to get back to crazy California with it’s diversity. My kids went to elementary school with Hmong kids, and black kids and native kids. I was gratified when I would meet a friend of theirs for the first time and find that my kids never even mentioned their race which means it didn’t make any difference.

  • Before moving back to the coast, we spent 11 LONG years in Nevada, very undiverse unless you’re seeing the difference between say…huntin’ boots and ridin’ boots. Camo and cowboy. There was the occasional native or “working girl” (neither would thought highly of…) but my kids went to school with mostly white folks. I was very happy to get back to crazy California with it’s diversity. My kids went to elementary school with Hmong kids, and black kids and native kids. I was gratified when I would meet a friend of theirs for the first time and find that my kids never even mentioned their race which means it didn’t make any difference.

  • Going to the Bayshore Mall nowadays there is a decent sprinkling of folks whose ancestors came from somewhere besides northern Europe. I know that Eureka folk now complain about ethnic gangs etc. but,speaking from safely up in the hills of So Hum, I love hearing and seeing something besides white bread and bologna when I go to town.

  • Going to the Bayshore Mall nowadays there is a decent sprinkling of folks whose ancestors came from somewhere besides northern Europe. I know that Eureka folk now complain about ethnic gangs etc. but,speaking from safely up in the hills of So Hum, I love hearing and seeing something besides white bread and bologna when I go to town.

  • I couldn’t help but think of our little gringonese, Darius, who, besides his Korean/Japanese/Mexican background, has every European country represented in his ethnicity. Truly a melting pot!

  • I couldn’t help but think of our little gringonese, Darius, who, besides his Korean/Japanese/Mexican background, has every European country represented in his ethnicity. Truly a melting pot!

  • Well, it certainly has to do with migration of people. In the Klamath-Trinity area, it was Indians and whites. Plain and simple. And the population of Indians was greater than the whites. Due to the proximity of the reservation and the fact that they hadn’t been displaced in the 1800’s.

    I didn’t see a black person until around 6th grade. And that was when one of the Eureka high school basketball teams came out to Hoopa to play. A few Mexican families moved into the community when I was in high school.

    Humboldt County, or rather, this region is one of the last places in the U.S. to be settled. So obviously, those who made the trek 160 years ago, and who took it from the native peoples who lived here are going to be the predominant residents.

    Just how many Europeans are living in Mongolia?

  • Aunt Jackie, I always get a kick out of seeing Heather and Dj’s beautiful brown skin and eyes underlayered with the rest of our family’s traits and then Darius came along…Our family has been white bread so long it is good to have some leavening in the mix.

    Ekovox, it’s not surprising we didn’t have all the shades of skin color very often here but I’m enjoying getting to know people who have different backgrounds than I do. I feel I grew up very insular around here.

    I remember when I first went to college, we had an orientation day and there were these two girls who were kind to me from Berkeley and they had kind of a different accent and were black. I quickly made up my mind that they were there on scholarships from some ghetto area…until they started talking about their families and I quickly realized they were middle class kids. One’s father a lawyer and one’s a doctor.

    I had to learn quickly to discard stereotypes built up from years of never meeting anyone from much different backgrounds than myself. I think one of America’s strengths comes from its diverse immigrants and I’m glad Humboldt County is now getting the benefit of an infusion of new blood (and, being married to one, I’m glad for the first big flush of immigrants, the children of the middle class–the back to the landers).

  • Aunt Jackie, I always get a kick out of seeing Heather and Dj’s beautiful brown skin and eyes underlayered with the rest of our family’s traits and then Darius came along…Our family has been white bread so long it is good to have some leavening in the mix.

    Ekovox, it’s not surprising we didn’t have all the shades of skin color very often here but I’m enjoying getting to know people who have different backgrounds than I do. I feel I grew up very insular around here.

    I remember when I first went to college, we had an orientation day and there were these two girls who were kind to me from Berkeley and they had kind of a different accent and were black. I quickly made up my mind that they were there on scholarships from some ghetto area…until they started talking about their families and I quickly realized they were middle class kids. One’s father a lawyer and one’s a doctor.

    I had to learn quickly to discard stereotypes built up from years of never meeting anyone from much different backgrounds than myself. I think one of America’s strengths comes from its diverse immigrants and I’m glad Humboldt County is now getting the benefit of an infusion of new blood (and, being married to one, I’m glad for the first big flush of immigrants, the children of the middle class–the back to the landers).

  • Here in Japan you can experience being a new sight to people if you go to the rural areas. My basic experience is that children are usually very curious and adults usually have their prejudices. Those prejudices usually aren’t bad, but they are instilled in them. However, this makes getting to know people even more fun because you get to broaden their horizons. Some sources say this is the most homogeneous nation in the world. It definitely shows. Everybody here seems to be “100% Japanese”. It is fun being a reality check for the Japanese who have absurd views of the people of the USA. The best thing to assume about people is that you don’t know the truth until you’ve gotten to know them. Because “what divides us is an illusion, made by man in his confusion.”

  • When we went to Mount Albion (a ruin) in Mexico, I had that experience. There was a family of about 20 people over half of them kids. They were obviously all dressed up for an outing. The girls wearing frilly new dresses and no shoes. I’m assuming they were country people on a big outing because everybody in their group was obviously fascinated by our redheaded and blond crowd.

    Eventually one of the kids tried to talk to me and the rest of the kids crowded round while the adults tried to look like they’d seen someone that looked like us at least once before and so they hung back.

    At the the time I actually remembered some of my college spanish and was able to talk a bit. I had been sitting in the sun with my back to the heat so my hair was pretty shiny looking.

    One of the littlest ones wanted to touch the long red hair strands. The older siblings were horrified at this boldness but I told the little cutie to go ahead. He touched it and said something like, “Whoa, that is hot.” Then the other little ones gathered round. Pretty soon, after I had said, “Go ahead,” even the adults were gently stroking my hair. Muttering to each other about how we looked, they actually followed us around for awhile. I think we made way more of an impression on them than the incredible ruin.

  • When we went to Mount Albion (a ruin) in Mexico, I had that experience. There was a family of about 20 people over half of them kids. They were obviously all dressed up for an outing. The girls wearing frilly new dresses and no shoes. I’m assuming they were country people on a big outing because everybody in their group was obviously fascinated by our redheaded and blond crowd.

    Eventually one of the kids tried to talk to me and the rest of the kids crowded round while the adults tried to look like they’d seen someone that looked like us at least once before and so they hung back.

    At the the time I actually remembered some of my college spanish and was able to talk a bit. I had been sitting in the sun with my back to the heat so my hair was pretty shiny looking.

    One of the littlest ones wanted to touch the long red hair strands. The older siblings were horrified at this boldness but I told the little cutie to go ahead. He touched it and said something like, “Whoa, that is hot.” Then the other little ones gathered round. Pretty soon, after I had said, “Go ahead,” even the adults were gently stroking my hair. Muttering to each other about how we looked, they actually followed us around for awhile. I think we made way more of an impression on them than the incredible ruin.

  • The thing that I like about meeting new and “different than us” people is just that, they are different that us, and provides us with a new and learning experience.

    But, the more that you study the history of who people really were, the more that you will find that, as I’ve said before; “We live in one small bubble in all of history and in all of this planet where peace and harmony is thought of as an ideal.” Sad isn’t it?

  • The thing that I like about meeting new and “different than us” people is just that, they are different that us, and provides us with a new and learning experience.

    But, the more that you study the history of who people really were, the more that you will find that, as I’ve said before; “We live in one small bubble in all of history and in all of this planet where peace and harmony is thought of as an ideal.” Sad isn’t it?

  • I love that it’s more diverse here. And as far as the gangs are concerned, usually that’s because people are trying so hard to escape the gang situation not realizing that they bring it with them.
    The influx of people trying to begin a life away from urban sprawl and all its problems has created the very thing they were running away from. But here, it’s less prevalent. Certainly less violent.
    Great post Kym.

  • I love that it’s more diverse here. And as far as the gangs are concerned, usually that’s because people are trying so hard to escape the gang situation not realizing that they bring it with them.
    The influx of people trying to begin a life away from urban sprawl and all its problems has created the very thing they were running away from. But here, it’s less prevalent. Certainly less violent.
    Great post Kym.

  • Ren, I like your quote. Who originally said/wrote it?

  • Ren, I like your quote. Who originally said/wrote it?

  • Ask Wendy sometime about her experiences in India as a 5’10” blue eyed blonde among dark skinned people with a maximum height of maybe 5’6″. She was definitely a minority!

  • Ask Wendy sometime about her experiences in India as a 5’10” blue eyed blonde among dark skinned people with a maximum height of maybe 5’6″. She was definitely a minority!

  • My quote is from a Ziggy Marley song.

  • My quote is from a Ziggy Marley song.

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