When I was in grade school, I lived outside of what I now consider my hometown. It was a lovely little farm house that my parents rented from Mr. H.. I don't remember meeting Mr H., or Mrs. H. for that matter, but I know my parents had said they met us. Later, I would learn this older couple was hesitant to rent to an interracial couple. My mother, Caucasian, with an eighth grade education and my father, Mexican, with some JuCo under his belt, managed to convince them that they were indeed worthy candidates. I like to think it was those four beautiful children who won them over (my youngest brother would come years later). To date, there's never been any real formal debate on the subject. I doubt there ever will be. My thoughts win by default. Anyway, it was outside this farm house, as the new school year began, that I encounter a word I had never heard.
Without fail, the first two weeks of riding the school bus had the ceremonial exchanging of the guards with my parents handing me off to the driver. Somewhere in all of this my older brother, from my mom's previous marriage, immediately ditched me for his friends in the back of the bus. Which was fine, I never wanted the title of tag-along. I pretended I was on my own. The first week cruised by. It was a lengthy drive. Many times, I pretended to be in a movie where I was the lead all dreamy staring out the window, the landscape rolling by with really great music flowing over the scene. Imagine dramatic. My mother loved soap operas. It's relevant.
Anyway, a week in, a new boy moves to town. On my route. His purpose: To make my life a horror flick. My Little Universe was about to teach me an early lesson in compassion but not before walking me through fear and then hatred for that boy. It's hard to remember the details of the fear and the hatred, though. Those feelings no longer live inside of me. But I do know within his taunting this H-word appeared repeatedly. And I had no idea what it meant. The way he said it made me worry that asking my parents might get me into trouble or, worse, might hurt them. So, I asked my older brother. He said, "You're Mexican not Indian, don't worry about it."* His definition confused me further.
One night at dinner, I finally just asked. My mother was livid but my dad had lived a life of discrimination and thought this a mild offense. "Just ignore him."
But what does it mean?
It means you're of two races.
What are races?
They're ethnic groups.
Yes. The same in the way they're made up.
But you said no two people are alike.
Yes. But the groups are the same in ways.
Black, White, Chinese, Indian...they are the same.
But what if you're two?
Eat your Green Beans.** (This from my mother who was still livid.)
During vocabulary, we used our student dictionaries and I remember trying to look up the word one day. No luck. I went home and did the same thing. My mother came in and asked me what I was doing. I told her. She sat with me and asked me what else was going on with this boy on the bus. I told her about the hair pulling and name calling. I told her about my stomach aches and how I wish the bus would run over him. I told her all my evil thoughts. I think she was trying not to laugh. I asked her not to tell anyone and that I was going to practice ignoring him like dad had said.
Of course, the Universe conspired.
Our washing machine broke AND mom said I could go with her to the laundromat! Just me and her. I would have her all to myself. We got down there and we got busy. I was quarter dropping and turning dials and life was good until HE walked in. I hid. I whispered to my mother that it was HIM. He was followed by a large fellow. His father. Clearly one-breed: Mean. And I watch from a safe distance the full blown version of the boy on the bus.
We would get in trouble as kids. Fight. Forget to pick up. Sneak in some back-talking defined as mumbling but my parents weren't abusive. They didn't call us names, they didn't shove us around, they didn't buy a soda then not offer us a drink. My mother was back to being livid and intently watching as if it was one of her serials. Her face was taking on one of her looks that spoke volumes. And I could tell she was fit to be 'heard'. Carrying out the last load of laundry, she gave that man that look full-on. He felt it, too. And I looked at his son...no longer wanting the bus to run over him. He never bothered me again after that. I hoped his dad never bothered him again after that. To date, there's never been any formal calculations on how long my mom's super eyeblast last. But for the sake of a happy ending, let's believe it is still in full effect.
*He was not a "half-breed" but "big brother" dumb at the time.
**This is the gist of the exchange. It could have been mashed potatoes.