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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Oh, No! I AM!

I think that our environment does shape the way we view or perceive others. I don't mean just the environment within our homes, but the greater environment of our neighborhoods and schools. The neighborhood that I lived in for the first seven years of my life, in Chicago, Illinois, has gone all upscale these days. I do believe the term is gentrified. The duplexes on my old street can't be purchased for less than about a million and a half dollars these days. When we rented half of a duplex there on my father's wages as a janitor, it was a true melting-pot neighborhood. I started my life surrounded by people of all colors and nationalities, so seeing different skin tones was second nature to me. When I came to Colorado, my Aunt A had an adoptive daughter with an Hispanic background. It made no difference to me. People are people, plain and simple. It was after I had spent some time living in Colorado that I learned that not everyone felt this way. No, I am not saying that Colorado is full of racists or haters. I don't think we have any more than anyone else has. It is just that moving to Colorado was my first exposure to the stereotypical mostly-white American suburbia. 

In my early adulthood I began selling Avon products part-time while going to college and babysitting the neighbor kids. One of the best things I got out of this job was exposure to other women doing the same job. At our monthly sales meetings, I became acquainted with women of all types of backgrounds, personalities, and experiences. They treated me as a peer even though I was much younger than most of them. One of the loveliest people I met during this time was a dear lady by the name of Louise. She was one of those people who are beautiful on both the inside and the outside. She was a large lady, and acknowledged it freely and with grace. For example, if we had a meeting in our manager's home she would say something like, "You need to get me a sturdier chair than that, honey, I'm too big for that one." I think that Louise's large physique was an outward sign of her huge and generous heart.

I think Louise was of European descent. She had skin that was milky white and beautifully maintained and made-up. Her pale blonde hair was always impeccably coiffed. I never saw her not looking all pulled-together or smelling of just the right amount of perfume. I guess that you could say she was the very picture of a well-kept lady. I never saw or heard of her being unkind to another person or creature. But at the same time, she was down-to-earth and fun to be around, and could crack wise with the best of us.

After Louise and her husband raised their children, they decided to adopt a couple of girls that needed a home. They were treated exactly the same as the children that had been born into the family, and were very well loved. They grew into confident, lovely women, and I am sure they have lived productive and fulfilled lives. One day I happened to be at Louise's home and spent a little time talking with her youngest daughter. I, of course, never thought twice about the fact that Louise's skin was lily white and that her daughter's was more of a coffee-with-light-cream color. We exchanged some small talk and I mentioned how much I adored her mother. It was obvious that her daughter loved her mother deeply. She told me that she appreciated that Louise never treated her any differently that any of her other children. All of the children who grew up in that home were hers, no matter who gave birth to them. They didn't think of her as their adoptive mother. She was simply their mom.

Then she told me a story that reflected the wonderful way she had been raised. Louise was active in her Church, as well as doing things like baking goodies for school fundraisers and such. One day Louise had just a little too much on her agenda and asked her daughter to drop off some things for an upcoming bake sale. She rang the doorbell and was greeted by the woman who lived there. "Hi," she said, "I'm dropping these things off for the bake sale." The lady looked at her, a bit confused. "And who are you?" "Oh! I'm sorry, I'm Louise's daughter. She asked me to drop these off because she's really busy today."

The lady looked at her with her mouth hanging open in surprise. "You're Louise's daughter?'re Mexican!" Louise's daughter took the ball and ran with it. She held her arm out in front of her face and looked at it closely. "Oh no!" she shrieked. "I AM Mexican!" She laughed and turned around and left. She knew that the woman didn't know Louise had adopted daughters. And she knew that the woman was acting a bit...well...stupid. But most importantly, she knew who she was. She was the beloved daughter of a truly special lady.