Galveston, TX, and South Central LA
I expected Galveston to be older. Thought recalled a discussion I had with my wife only days ago, during the aftermath of Katrina. My wife is Mexican, our daughters are Mexican, and we’ve lived in Mexico these last eight years. My wife is not obsessed with the race issue, but she is conscious of it because it is always part of the issue with regard to illegal Mexican immigration to the U.S. and the fall out from that.
Anyhow, on this day she had watched a middle-class White guy returning to his house in a middle class section of New Orleans that was not flooded being questioned by a reporter. The reporter wanted to know if, as the Black mayor was then encouraging, that the people who had evacuated New Orleans should be allowed to return. The White guy said something about “not to the neighborhoods that did not have services,”—the mostly Black neighborhoods. In Spanish, my wife said sure, the rich White guy can go back to his house, but the poor Blacks can’t. It’s racism.
Thought took me back to my childhood in South Central. It was a white, working class neighborhood. Immigrants from the dust bowl, every other state in the Union, and from Europe. It was a good place, and it is where I grew up in the 1930s and 40s. It was one of those places where a lot of the people did not lock the doors to their houses when they left. My mother was one of those.
In 1948 I was 18 and I joined the army and was out of town for four years. When I returned in 1952, Blacks were moving into the neighborhood. That’s when the burglaries began. That’s when the stealing from business began. That’s when the raping began. That’s when shop owners began to move out. Those that that remained put metal shutters over their shop windows. That’s when the drugs came into the neighborhood. By the 60s, my mother was still living there, no one was safe. In 1965 I stood on her front porch, a loaded rifle resting just inside the doorway, and watched the businesses on Avalon Boulevard go up in flames, one after the other.
I went through the story with my wife. The point I wanted to make was that the White guy in New Orleans was reporting what he thought would be best. He had some money, so his house was on high ground and he could go back. The Blacks who had been evacuated were poor so their houses were on low ground and flooded. It only made sense that he could return before they could return. That was just the fact of the matter.
I had reported to her on what had happened to my neighborhood in South Central in the 1950s and 60s. I had lived out my childhood and youth perfectly happy there. When it was White. It had all been destroyed by Black immigration. That’s the fact of the matter. Was it racist to report what had happened in my life?
My wife has a sense of humor, but she hates to admit when she is wrong. “Gordo,” she said in Spanish, “I don’t trust you when you talk about race. I don’t trust Anglos when they talk about race.”
“But do you understand the point?”
She said: “Do you understand this?” She made an obscene gesture with her right arm.
“Yes, dear. I do.”
“It’s best that you understand it.”