“You're not supposed to do it all the time,” Grandma Gloria scolded.
I was a child who had just been initiated into a secret club. I was crocheting big sloppy stitches alongside tight stitches that barely allowed and light to peek through. But together, they were creating a purple scarf.
“You gotta save it for when you're…” she trailed off, searching for words that a child can understand. Now as an adult, I wish I grew up speaking Spanish, so that way I could have communicated with Grandma Gloria in a way that none of her children were able too. She wanted her five children, Ramon, Jacquelin, Elizabeth, Antonio and Carlos, all named after the Spanish nobility that enslaved their homeland, to never speak her language. She needed them to be as American as possible so that they would not face the discrimination that her and her immigrant parents did. Later, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and after boots were on the marshy ground of Vietnam, she would learn that this effort was all in vain as she screamed at a NYPD officer for beating her teenage son to the edge of death; his offense was speaking his truths. That same son would later be drafted, and fight with pride and dignity for a country that failed him and live the rest of his life forever marred by the mental scars of his past.
My father, like his mother, worked hard to give his children the life that he deserved. Being fully afro-latino, he was able to “pass” through corporate America in the 1980s, without anyone batting an eye. Yes, my father rose up through social ranks by passively passing as a white man. He built a big house in white suburbia and filled it with opulence and lavish parties. Whenever people met his African American wife and dark skinned children, they hid their surprise, but accepted us as nothing more than a backdrop.
I grew up in this home, completely disjointed from my family history. My father was trying to create his own story, not wanting to acknowledge the past. Despite him passing, father made sure that we never forgot that we were black. I've always wanted to be a self starter entrepreneur, even as a teenager, but I'll never forget that night when he told me that I had to hide my blackness because nobody would ever, ever, ever, purchase dresses from a black girl. You may find this cruel, because it was. But as a woman now who is an entrepreneur, I see that he was trying to protect me from incurable wounds. Unfortunately, at 16, it was already too late.
I was already unwelcome in a country that forced me to be here in the first place. As child, whenever something was amiss in the classroom, it was always my fault, because I was the one black girl with braided pigtails, whose parent's dared to build their house on the white side of town. Everyone assumed that I thought I was better than, even though I was less than. When you are a six year old child, you could feel everyone's hate, but the tragedy of it all is that you don't understand why. You know that you are different, but why? The same white teacher that taught me about the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, also gleefully announced, in the same breath, that they were only this great because they were "tan" not black. Teachers would humiliate the one black child in the class, who would never understand why. When I was a child, I remember looking into my mirror and crying because I had just came to the realization that I was the most hated creature in my country. And now I look back at complete awe because I never turned that pain into hate. And yet others who are saved from feeling it because they are white, feel the need to hate me anyway.
Now as a woman, I understand. I understand that this is a topic that schools leave out and alter to fit their needs. I understand that the education system left unequipped parents who were still licking their wounds to teach their children the complexity race. I understand the defensive stance, the anger, the dissociating and the blatant ignoring of my story.
So many have read my recent blog post about being the other, and so many scoffed and said that I was being too sensitive. Some even felt the need to say that they understand why I am sensitive, but agreed with the others that I was crying over spilt milk.
So for those with doubts, I could dig deeper and go into gruesome detail about being sexually assaulted by a white man at 4. About being sexuallty fetishized as a child by white men for being the "jungle fever", "forbidden fruit" and "temptress" that white media claim the "other" women to be. I could talk about the poor soul of a black man who as he raped me, commented on the beauty of my "light" skin. I could talk about the black men that stalked me and robbed me because my husband was white, which made them believe that I had more than them. I could talk about the white man that yelled at me to get out of his jewelry store because I was black and my husband was white. I could bring forth the underworld of our broken society in way that no one could hide from it. I can tell stories from my past that are so terrible and wicked, that it would cause everyone in the room to drop to their knees and weep.
But doing so would only expose my soul. It would expose a part of me that I am still navigating and still trying to make sense of. I never got pistol whipped by the police, but I could feel that aching pain that my uncle Ramon did. I could feel it, as it is all part of our collective suffering. Some suffer in grace; other suffer by acting out the hate that they faced. Sometimes, I feel as if the world around me is burning, and only the other can see it.
That day decades ago, Grandma Gloria could not put into words how to use crochet and knitting. She tried to explain by pretending to fall asleep. At the time, I was baffled, but now I understand. She was trying to tell me that fiber arts are meant to relax the soul. It calms to soul and soothes the wounds. My dad used to say that when he was a teenager, he used to come home only to find that his mother had adorned something else in hand crocheted Spanish lace. "She just wouldn't stop," he told me one day, laughing. Now I know why. Now I understand. That was her sanctuary as the world around her burned. When her sons came home bloody, or never at all, when her daughters sold their bodies to white men, and after she scrubbed the floors of rich white families, crochet was her solace. Now I understand that this is part of our souls. And now you know.