Monday, February 10, 2014

Imagine ~ No More Intolerance

I’m a half-Hispanic (Puerto Rican) Jewish (fully) woman with a multi-cultural and multi-religious extended family. I have been FORTUNATE to have experienced prejudice – why do I say fortunate? I was lucky enough to never have life or limb seriously threatened (a few “mild” shoving matches), but more importantly, I learned what it felt like to have bigots be unkind, deny you your rights, and treat you as if you don’t belong. And because I have been on “that side”, I know how wrong it is – I take any prejudice towards any people personally because if I accept it in any way then I am just as guilty.
I’ve been told to “go back where I came from”, that would be the Bronx in NYC. In 1968 after three weeks in the Miami sun, combined with my already medium olive complexion, I visited family in South Carolina (the year of race riots) where my blond-haired blue-eyed cousin and I got into a heap of trouble for walking down the street TOGETHER (oh my!). My first serious teen-age boyfriend was forbidden from seeing that **** (insert derogatory Hispanic term here) by his parents. As a female I’ve actually had business-people tell me that they had to speak with my husband and not “the little woman”; LITTLE? I guess I’m complimented, I may be short but… oh never mind. I’ve been called more than one nasty term to describe my ethnicity (both halves), my religion, my gender and my physical attributes. There has probably been more that just went right on over my head (I said I was short!).
I do remember an incident which I chuckle over – I was seventeen, had a wicked and distorted sense of humor, and didn’t mind lambasting someone with “shock value”. My sister (slightly fairer than me) and her blond-haired husband had a baby shortly before she came down with chicken pox; my parents and I cared for my nephew to give them a chance for her to get well and not get the infant sick. A proud aunt, I carried my fair skin nephew in an infant pouch while doing grocery shopping when this older, judgmental woman looked down her nose at me and said, loudly and nasty, “Harrumph, His father must be white!” I looked at her and then at my nephew and simply said, “You know, I really don’t know.” She did call me a slut under her breath, but I also left her jaw hanging open.
As I wrote my novel Hyphema I remembered the passive and not-so-passive prejudice I’ve lived through. It was extremely important to me to represent someone who was so good inside and yet her very appearance invited hatred. Sudah, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant married to an American-born Caucasian man wasn’t oblivious to the bigotry she encountered, but she refused to react with anger and resentment. In one scene it gave her a lot of joy to help educate others and share some of her culture as she hosted a day of cooking lessons for the wives of her husband’s new co-workers. Sadly it wasn’t just their North Carolina neighbors who reacted badly to their mixed marriage, but also her parents and family back in Pakistan.
Hyphema: Bleeding in the eye caused by trauma… Matt Garratti, a paramedic from New York, moves his wife and son to North Carolina to work at his dream job as a flight medic. Pakistani born Sudah, his wife, receives frosty stares and insensitive comments from their new neighbors... Matt wonders if he is pursuing his dream or bringing his family into a nightmare from which they may never wake.

In tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Beatles coming to our shores, I leave you with John Lennon’s words: 

A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

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