Originally published on Patriot Not Partisan
When I was growing up, our neighbor had an above-ground swimming pool, a rarity in the tiny backyards of the homes on the Southside of Chicago. We could see the pool from our kitchen window.
I often played with the kids who lived in that house and considered them friends. But come summertime, they naturally spent their days in the pool. On any given day, lots of neighborhood kids could be seen playing in that pool. I wanted to play, too. After all, I was a neighborhood kid. But my parents said it would be impolite to ask — I needed to be invited. I watched them play from our kitchen window, sometimes even wearing my swimming trunks just waiting … but that invitation never came.
That’s the first time I learned that I was different from the neighborhood kids. Chicago was — and in many areas still is — highly segregated. We lived in a white neighborhood. As a half-Filipino, half-white child, I was generally tolerated in my neighborhood, but never fully accepted (outside of my best friend and his family). At my Catholic elementary school, a few of my classmates would call me a “Filipino fart.” In high school, the kid who sat behind me in homeroom would often tell me to “go back to your country, wherever that is.” When I told the teacher about this, he told me to “just ignore it” and asked if I had finished my work. He completely dismissed my concerns, instead of addressing the situation.
Although I brushed off the racist rhetoric and actions, it did significant damage to my soul. I was severely wounded. I would bury myself in writing poetry, listening to heavy metal and dabbling in whatever substance I could get my hands on. One day, I wanted to end it all. And I almost did.
Twenty years later I found myself surrounded by people who accept me — and even celebrate me — for who I am. Of course, I knew there was still hate in the world. I wasn’t naive. I knew many people, especially blacks, Hispanics and gay people, still faced significant discrimination. And I always tried to stand with them. Although an ally against racism, I no longer felt like a victim. The wounds I endured in childhood were permanently healed, I thought.
Then Charlottesville happened, and more specifically, President Trump’s response. Like most Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the events of Saturday. And I was stunned by the tepid response given by the President. But I dug into my diversity training playbook and gave him the benefit of the doubt. As someone who has always been rich, white, straight and male, he cannot possibly understand what racial discrimination feels like. And on Monday, Trump at least made an effort to say the right thing.
Then his press conference on Tuesday happened. And the wounds in my soul that I thought were long healed began to flare up. When President Trump said, “there are bad people on both sides,” that little boy in his swimming trunks staring out the window occupied my mind. When the President said, there are “many fine people” among the neo-Nazis calling for an ethnic cleansing of our nation, the faces of the boys calling me a “Filipino fart” appeared. And when Trump promoted his winery in Charlottesville — “one of the largest wineries in the United States” — that teacher who dismissed my concerns was back.
In my diversity training, I learned there are actually very few racists in the world. Most people are just ignorant. I always thought our President fell into the latter category. But after his passionate statements Tuesday, and his continued unwillingness to consider the hurt his words have caused, it’s difficult not to consider him a racist.
And if you’re willing to overlook this fact and still support him, then you are no better than my high school teacher.
2 thoughts on “I just wanted to swim with the other kids”
This is exactly the kind of story that needs to be told! Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry this was something you had to endure but I hope we can all come together to support one another. Hope you are well!
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You have such a gift for writing with clarity and passion. Thanks for sharing, Joe.
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