Although I try hard not to post about politics these days (more often than not, it leaves me with heart palpitations), I think it’s important that folks with hearts and minds open them up, and speak. I’ve told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again.
If you recognize the title of this post, you know these poignant words aren’t mine; they belong to Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., one of my heroes. He also said, “In the end, we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”; and “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Today, I thought hard about what to say. “Nothing” was on that list, since essentially, my one opinion isn’t worth all that much by itself. But I cannot be a silent friend, so here’s my story: When I was a little girl — about 6 — we lived in San Pedro California. While you’d think Southern California would be the last place you’d find racial tensions against Spanish speaking people, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
For those of you who know me, you know I was born in Spain to a Spanish mother. I spoke Spanish only until I was 5 years old. That first year in San Pedro we spent in terror, with my father in Vietnam and my diminutive mother in charge of three children under the age of 6. Our neighbor, you see, had decided my mother was a “dirty Mexican” and this woman terrorized us mercilessly. She put non-disposable diapers down our drainpipes (disposables didn’t exist then), flooding our home and the homes of others. She called social services on my mom countless times (for what, I have no idea, but they stopped coming, because every time they came, our home was spotless and her children were happy). Her nearly adult son would stand outside our patio in the evenings, and you could see his black dirty boots beneath our curtains. He’d stand there for hours, making us afraid.
The list of perpetrations is extensive, and I went to bed every night with my mom rehearsing a list of things I should do if “someone broke in” during the night. My mother understood very little English, and I was the only one with any English words in my lexicon. So, I slept with mom in her bed, beneath a window that was barely big enough for a child to crawl through.
“If someone breaks in,” she’d say (I’m paraphrasing, because she spoke to me in Spanish), “go out the window, go to the neighbor’s house across the street. Tell her to call the police. Do you remember what I said? Tell me what you will do.”
I remember this, night after night. The fear of having my siblings and mother all depending on me — a little slip of nothing — and me not able to help them, gave me night terrors for years thereafter.
One day, out in our front yard, I watched this bruiser of a woman kick my mom in the back. Can you imagine what that felt like? The woman who is your protector against the world — your very world itself — lying on the ground at the mercy of a screaming, racist monster? At the age of six?
I know what that feels like, and 50 years later, the memory leaves me with a sick feeling in the pit of my gut.
Eventually, people began to see what was going on and my father called from overseas to threaten murder if the situation wasn’t rectified. My grandmother, who lived in Chicago, called the police.
The Navy shipped these people to the Philippines (fitting), but while they were packing, my mother quietly made a pot of coffee and took it next door to offer it to the neighbor. I went with her, because, of course, it was my instinct to protect her.
The woman asked, “After everything, you’re offering me coffee?” My mother answered, “You probably don’t have time to make any yourself.”
This is what I recall: the astonished look on that woman’s face. I don’t think she accepted my mom’s coffee, but I don’t remember, because that’s not what mattered most to me that day. I only remember that my tiny mother was a giant in my eyes. Even after all that woman had done to her, to us, it was her act of kindness that gave me my moral compass.
So, today, this is what I have to say: It is far braver, far more powerful to answer hate with love. If you remain silent, you are taking sides. If you cast a vote for hatred, misogyny, racism and bigotry, you are a hater, misogynist, racist and bigot. It’s that simple. This is no time for hate, my friends. This is a time for love, and Martin Luther King Jr. also reminds us this, “‘An eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” Let’s all do the right thing now. Tip the scales with love. That’s the only way we’re going to win.