The American Dream

By David Yanez, 5-7-2003

Some Hispanics have accused me of being a White Boy, of not being Hispanic enough, of neglecting my Culture. They teased me as a child and talked behind my back as an adult, and over the years this has hurt me a great deal, to know that my own people have turned their backs on me while I did everything in my power as a child to hold my head up high as the word 'Spick' was branded on my forehead.

Let me take you back to a time when many of you weren’t even born yet and most of you were still living in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. My parents were one of the many Hispanics that thought they were equals with White Americans. Why should they be afraid of living amongst White Americans? Why should their children have to grow up in a Ghetto? This was America. The American dream! We had the right to live anywhere we wanted. That’s why we emigrated here. Most of Hispanics chose to live amongst other Hispanics, mainly because white folks at that time didn’t want us Hispanics living in their neighborhoods. We also couldn’t afford to live in the white neighborhoods, and we felt more comfortable amongst our own cultures. You didn’t want to pay more to live in their neighborhoods and have them treat you like shit. We were just as poor as the rest of you, but that didn’t scare my parents. They had the American Dream. They would live the American Dream, even if it meant working twice as hard and enduring the pain of watching their children suffer the humiliation of discrimination, hatred and physical abuse. They would push their limits and the limits of their children in order to give their children a better life.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I was just a spick. When we were all just spicks according to the bigots of the time, a time when I only spoke Spanish, a time when Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona were all White neighborhoods. There was a time when my mother would take us shopping and all the people would stare at us as though we were lepers. I can still hear their whispers, “Look at the Spicks” “Make sure they don’t steal anything” It didn’t matter that my mother was a beautiful Caucasian woman, or that we were innocent and harmless children, because as soon as we opened our mouths they knew, they always knew, they knew that we were spicks. We were the Hispanics that were singled out, cursed at, spat upon, beat up, and humiliated. And the worst part of it was, that we couldn’t turn back, we couldn’t show fear, and we couldn’t let them see us cry. It was our dignity that was at stake. We held back our tears and forced ourselves upon them so that one day your children could live anywhere they want and not have the word Spick branded on their foreheads or burned into their hearts.

How dare you accuse me of not being Hispanic enough! How dare you assume that I didn’t suffer as much as you! We had to survive in the white mans territory. It was a time when Elementary School was a war zone, and most of the Hispanic and Black students were bused in or migrated in from nearby neighborhoods. Most of these kids did experience discrimination while they were in school, but when the three o’clock bell rang they went back to their neighborhoods, back to their own kind, to play with their friends. They didn’t have to deal with discrimination until the next morning. Some of you remember the rocks they use to throw at your school buses. Scary, wasn’t it? Now imagine having to go through that everyday and all day.

My brothers and sisters and I had to constantly endure the stares, the name calling, the whispering behind our backs, and yes, the bloody noses. Everyone wanted to beat up a Fucking Spick. We were the little soldiers of the civil rights era.

We experienced the front line. We have the scars from the battlefield, the bloody noses from the enemy. We have the flashbacks that only war can leave. And in our minds the enemies were not the Whites, but the bigots and their children. And when the three o’clock bell rang I knew what to expect. I was a six-year-old child and I knew that it was time to get beat up. And when my father found out, I could see him holding back his tears as he whipped me with his belt and cried out, “I want you to fight back, don’t ever let anyone call you a spick”, as the tears ran down his face. I knew then for my father’s sake that I had to fight back. I had to learn to fight, so that my father wouldn’t feel so bad.

We suffered the humiliation, the degradation, the emotional scaring, and the pain of not belonging. We had to humble ourselves, excuse ourselves, and avoid eye contact. We fought the battle, so that you may prosper here today. We were the reason you can walk into a white neighborhood today and not be attacked instantly. We were the reason you can buy a house in almost any neighborhood today. We were the reason your children don't come home with bloody noses and mental scars of abuse. We're the ones. We were first contact with the whites in these neighborhoods. We forced ourselves upon them, showed them our ways, made them see us as ordinary people. We educated White folks, by befriending them, by playing with their children, by gaining their trust and that’s why I must apologize to my friends for using the word “White” so often to describe the bigots that tormented me as a child.

We had to be smarter in school to gain their respect. We had to push ourselves physically harder in order to protect ourselves. We could never lose a fight because it would show weakness. We had to endure more pain, be more humble, be more forgiving, because once we fought them we had to live with them and eventually forgive them. That’s what my mother taught us, to forgive those who make us cry, the way she always forgave my father for making her cry. We were children and unaware that we were paving the future, so that you and your children wouldn't have to go through what we went through.

I am Hispanic. I am Latino. I've always been so. Don't ever tell me I'm not Hispanic enough. I can't dance Salsa, because most of my friends listened to rock and roll. And when more and more of my own kind moved into the neighborhood, it was already too late, we were as different as night and day. You were Hispanic, Latino, sure of who you were, proud of your race, proud of your music and your ability to dance and speak Spanish fluently. What was I? What had I become? I had been assimilated. I had been accepted. I was one of them, yet I wasn't. I was one of you, yet I wasn’t. I had spent all my childhood fighting and enduring pain, in order to gain their respect. And when I finally did, my own people attack me. I still speak Spanish, not as fluent as you, but I haven't forgotten. I don't dance as well as you, but I sure do try. I'm the one who had the word “Spick” branded on my forehead and burned into my heart when I was only three years old. I was a spick long before you ever realized you were Latino. My brothers, sisters, parents, and I, made it possible for all of us to hold our heads up high and say,

"Yes, we’re Latinos. Yes, we're Hispanics, Yes, we're Human Beings, and we'll never be ashamed of it. We’re here to stay".

Copyright 2009 David Yanez. All Rights Reserved.

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