When I was almost 10, my family moved from Uniondale, a mixed-ethnic town on Long Island, to Webster, a 95% white town in western New York.
Our new house was much larger than our old one. More bedrooms. More bathrooms. Huge lawns. Our neighborhood was virtually crime-free. Virtually. I came to learn crime-free is a euphemism for “white people here do fine, but that don’t mean your non-white ass is safe.”
My family moved not because we wanted to, but because my father had been discriminated against, racially, at his job. The mostly black powers-that-be where he worked didn’t like a Puerto Rican having the unprecedented success he was having; they didn’t like how popular he was becoming. So they conspired to prevent him from advancing in his career. They did so formally, and so he filed a lawsuit, and proved he’d been discriminated against, and he won. Then we moved away. Winning a lawsuit doesn’t mean you win anything. The racists got to stay. We left the town my mother had grown up in, left our grandparents who lived next door, our aunt and uncle around the corner, a lifetime of friends made, a place we never felt was anything but home. My friends were all different races and ethnicities, and so anything about me that was different had never felt “other.”
One of our first days in Webster, while we were on our front stoop, a little girl passed by on the street. Couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6. “Go home, spics,” she sing-songed as she skipped away. “Nobody wants you here.” Continue reading