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Commentary: Dealing with prejudice

By David Magallanes

Prejudice has not been a major problem in my life — at least as far as I know. I’ve brushed against it throughout my lifetime, as we all have in one form or another, whether because of our color, religion, politics, or orientation of one kind or another. I’d like to say that I’ve never experienced malicious prejudice, but then I’d have to check the tint of my rose-colored glasses.

Actually, my first awareness of prejudice came from my parents’ stories about their experiences, as well as those of their parents — my “abuelos.” All four of my grandparents had arrived in the U.S. (legally) at about the same time with little preparation, due to the frightening and hurried circumstances of their departure from Mexico.

They spoke no English and relied heavily on their children to translate, once those children had enough education to do so. One of my grandmothers was always “shadowed” closely by department store staff when she went shopping in those establishments because they seemed to assume that she was going to steal something.

All of my grandparents were devout Catholics. One of my grandfathers was actually ousted from a “white” Catholic church in Los Angeles and told to go to the “Mexican church” further down the street.

Then it was my parents’ turn. When they were growing up, Mexicans were still a relatively new phenomenon in parts of Los Angeles (which is really hard to imagine now), and they were often treated as if they were “colored” — just as the blacks were being treated in other parts of the country at the time.

When my father returned from invading Normandy, France, and fighting the Nazis in Germany and Belgium during World War II, he tried buying a home with my mother in Whittier, to the east of Los Angeles. He was told that there were “no more homes for sale” in this white enclave, when in fact other (white) returning soldiers were still buying.

My uncle was given the same line. It’s ironic that Whittier now is probably more Mexican than Mexico City. Both my dad and my uncle finally settled in Lynwood, where they were “accepted,” and were amongst the first “Mexicans” to live there. Now — you guessed it — that’s about all there is in Lynwood!

Another uncle had told me about seeing restaurants in Texas where neither dogs nor Mexicans were allowed. He said he wasn’t about to go in. I was starting to become aware that we could be as American as apple pie and baseball, but as long as we looked “Mexican,” there was always the potential for unnecessary and hurtful problems.

My siblings are relatively fair-skinned (and two of them are even blue-eyed, as was one of our grandmothers), but even they didn’t escape the scourge of prejudice. One of my sisters, who is blondish and blue-eyed, was humiliated in front of her fifth-grade class by the Irish monsignor, who admonished her not to eat too many tortillas.

And then it was my turn…

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