BOOKS & THE CULTURE Growing Up White 1 My mother, with dark, angry strokes, crosses out the options under “race.” “You are A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N” she spells out next to “other.” She does this for her, a salve against segregation. At ten, I feel no such separation. The faces of my classmates hold no threats. I make the comparisons she is teaching me. My mother is beautiful. Our house has the biggest yard. 2. The Texas history I learn in school seems to start with Stephen F. Austin, sometime in the 1800’s. I offer my ancestors as counter examples: Maria Olaya Gutierrez de Benavides born about 1752 in South Texas, or rather, New Spain, or better, Joaquin Cuellar Canamar de la Garza, -1692 immigrant. The faces of my classmates side with the teacher and Stephen F. Austin. 3. “Dear Minority Student,” the preprinted letter opens. I do not bother to read the body, place it in the pile “colleges to decline.” The high school counselors will not see you more than once a semester unless the letter says “admitted” or “scholarship.” I take my letters in one at a time, make them see me twice a week. In the yearbook, seniors note honors and awards my list is the longest. 4. After dinner, I cajole my aunt into story telling. She recounts how she could pass, get past the ticket taker at the white pool. She never swam, lounged on the chairs reading, entering the water only to pee. The one about my mother is new to me, how she organized the officers’ wives’ club despite their initial whispered remarks, how she won an award from the base commander. Later, when those wives said “we need you to keep us organized” she told them “go to hell” words I have never heard my mother say but imagine surging through her as she writes AMERICAN in thick, bold type. Originally from San Antonio, Marissa Martinez now makes her home in Seattle, where she earns her living as an engineer. She was recently awarded an Hispanic Engineer, Na tional Achievement Award for her community impact in science and technology. Her work has appeared in The Americas Review and Raven Chronicles. Much of her recent compelling writing is “Family Lessons,” which explores both what is “forgotten.” part of a series called is passed on and what Naomi Shihab Nye 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 20, 1998
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