Friday, December 12, 2014

My Hero

My first memory of our family being different from uncles, aunts,l cousins and grandparents, is riding in the back seat of a car around 1952 when I was 6, with 3 brothers in the backseat, a baby brother up front with mom and dad, traveling from one destination to another. No seatbelts back then. My father, a loving, reliable, honorable take-charge man  (who would eventually retire a U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major, 22 year career) was at the wheel. We were on a "road trip", although it wasn't called that then. Destination Ft. Someplace.  My dad stopped for the night at a motel blinking "Vacancy." I noticed someone inside came out and glanced in the car. He and my dad went back inside the motel office. Then my dad came back out and began talking very quietly with my mom. I saw she was angrily talking back at him, then after their hushed discussion, we kept on going on the highway. At the time I remember feeling like it was something really bad about all of us why we couldn't get a motel room. I always remembered the feeling and trying to understand bits and pieces of what I could make out my mom and dad were saying with such shock and anger. My dad would stop for breaks for us under any shady tree he saw off the highway (these are called expressways now). After the pre-prepared tortillas with weenies (we didn't call them hot dogs) and egg or frijole tacos were eaten. It was years later when I was 16 that I asked my dad why we couldn't stay in that motel on that "road trip" when I was 6. I wanted those long ago feelings explained and confirmed. He was surprised that I remembered, but he recalled what I was talking about in an instant. It was because of the color of our skin he said. I was outraged. I said, but Dad, we're not Black, we're not even that dark. Did they think we were Black. My dad said, no, honey, they thought we were Mexicans. Mexicans! We've never been to Mexico have we daddy? I was born in Texas. Mom was born in Texas. Dad was born in New Mexico. Didn't you tell them we were military and that we were born in the United States. He said there's some people that no amount of exlaining to will matter with them, and, honey, that man that night was one of those kind. That incident was the one and only time I ever experienced prejudice toward me or felt prejudice. It was a painful feeling I carried around for many year, deep in my subconscience. Never, at any Army base, on base or off, did I experience prejudice again. I felt safe in and around our Army bases. When I was 16, I referred to myself as a Dependent. It wasn't until I was stateside when people asked where I was from that I recall telling people that I was a military BRAT.