One of the great things about being raised in a multi-cultural home is that you don't tend to notice things like skin color as much as those who grow up in a uniform household. It was the same awakening that occured when I realized, thanks to a few bad mannered and poorly raised 5th graders, that my quiet and shy older sister who was loads of fun (as she was willing to go along with any crazy scheme I came up with) was "handicapped". In our home, skin color and disabilities were not recognized;we were all the same. I always knew my grandpa had an accent, but I was almost a teenager before I noticed that the accent and the brown tone of his skin made him stand out from most of the people in our community. I adored my grandpa- I was so embarrassed/proud, like all kids are, when he would come to my basketball games and yell at the refs. He'd yell in Spanish so not many people understood him, but I think they got the gist of it. My grandpa could build anything. His cabin was a fairy tale land of mechanical swings, warped automobiles and garages stocked with more wonderful piles of tools and building materials than any child could dream of. He had his own way of doing things and his own way of thinking, but that only made him unique and mysterious.
While living in San Juan during his twenties, Grandpa was recruited by an American mining company. He'd get to bring his family to the land of milk and honey, while they'd get a new dynamite specialist. It was extremely dangerous work, but grandpa feared nothing. He worked hard to provide his family a good life in America, and eventually became a proud citizen. I am so grateful for the roots he planted for me.
So you can imagine my horror when in my late teens I witnessed for the first time, at least personally, someone degrade my Grandpa for his skin color. I had known that it had happened before- many times in fact, during his early years in this country. But times had changed, and I knew that he was well loved and respected in his community. But all it took was for one ignorant person to degrade him, to try to "put him in his place" per se, for my eyes to open to just how bigoted people still are. My grandpa, being the kind of person he was, simply ignored the classless man and went about his way. But the memory always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Puerto Ricans have become more and more prevalent in US culture over the last few years thanks to celebrities like Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. But few have gained notoriety in the fields of science, medicine, law and politics until today, when President Obama announced that his nominee for the Supreme Court is Appellate Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Her rise from poverty to nomination for the highest court in the land is a compelling story, but more than that, it shows us that the minorities in this country play an important role in its future. Our country has become a beautiful and colorful patchwork of cultures, races and religions, and I am so glad, especially today, that I am an American.
Had my Grandfather had the opportunity for education, he probably would have become an engineer, architect or chemist. Even without the formal titles or diplomas, he was all these things and more. But most of all, he was a wonderful father and grandfather whose legacy is found in the 100+ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who live today in this land of freedom.