I have a gentle nature. I am not prone to anger or violence. I tend to be a quiet person who melts into a crowd. My level of empathy is so strong that I sometimes cry over the difficulties of strangers. I worry about people, and not just those that I know. I have a sixth sense when it comes to noticing someone who is in pain, either physically or mentally. I am an observer of human nature. People are always more important to me than money or things. I would gladly give away my possessions for the sake of helping someone in need. I have a strong relationship with God who has helped me through difficult challenges again and again.
I grew up with only memories of a father and while they were pleasant I hid an internal sadness in knowing that I would never see him again. I watched my mother bravely struggle with finances. Somehow she always found ways to keep us housed and fed but we made untold sacrifices that we rarely mentioned. I know that we never had health insurance of any kind. I don’t think I visited our family physician at all from the time my father died when I was eight until I was a teen needing a physical exam for college. We got our vaccinations from the Canal Clinic for free. I recall sitting there on hard wooden chairs for hours waiting for our number to be called.
I did not drive until I was married because my mother was unable to afford the insurance for me. I had to rely on the kindness of friends to get around and I often used my bicycle to travel rather long distances when none of them were available. My family led a rather spartan life but it was always filled with love and gratitude for what we had. My mother always told us to be thankful for our blessings. She reminded us that if we had a roof over our heads and a bed for sleeping that we were indeed fortunate. She often boasted that we had never missed a meal and that was certainly true. I learned to enjoy a big bowl of pinto beans for dinner and a fried egg sandwich for lunch. My closet looked almost bare with my five school blouses, two skirts, a blazer and the four dress up outfits that hung there. I had just what I needed and no more.
I suppose that my childhood experiences prepared me well for teaching underserved minority populations. So many of my students lived in poverty and were often misunderstood by the middle class population. I knew what it was like to live on the edge, to worry as much about my family’s situation as my studies. I knew that many of my students were faking it from day to day much as I had. I opened my heart to them and somehow they realized that I would be an ally because I had once walked in their shoes.
I suppose that my background explains my political leanings. My mother would speak of the Great Depression with a kind of reverence. She told me of the hardships that most of society endured. She described how her mother saved cardboard to put in the bottom of shoes when the leather soles became so thin that there was a hole. Mama was the queen of hand me downs. Everything she wore had once belonged to her three older sisters. It was not until she was a teen that she learned to sew and how to earn money for fabric that she ever wore a brand new outfit.
Mama often spoke of the profound prejudice aimed and her and her family members. Neighbors and classmates threw rocks at her and her siblings as they walked to school. They cursed them with epithets and urged them to go back to wherever they had come from. They didn’t seem to realize that my mother and her brothers and sisters had all been born in the United States. On one occasion my mom’s best friend had to rescind an invitation to a sweet sixteen tea party because her parents feared that the “dirty immigrant girl” would be an embarrassment. That immigrant girl was my mother.
Mama used to boast that her family had always been Democrats. It was not until Ronald Reagan that she ever changed from that affiliation. She like Reagan because she had idolized him in movies when she was young and because he seemed to be a truly nice individual. After that she went back and forth with her vote.
I am disturbed by the nasty tone of the most recent elections. I do not like the references to minorities, immigrants, women that sound so much like the kind of abuse that my mother had to endure when she was a young girl. I am saddened by comments that assume that poverty is a result of ignorance and laziness. I cringe when I hear people telling those that they do not like to go back to wherever they came from. When I observe such things I remember the look of hurt in my sweet and guileless mother when she told me of the treatment she had received. I cannot imagine what drives people to accept such behavior in anyone much less a leader.
I was taught that America’s greatness lies in the goodness of its people and I still believe that, but when I get attacked for simply stating my own beliefs I worry that we are going down a dangerous pathway. Each of us have differing backgrounds and needs that often color how we decide to vote. It’s important that we have those choices. A one size fits all way of thinking is the very last thing we need. Diversity of citizens and philosophies makes our nation vibrant, not an insistence that we must join a certain team or face rejection.
In the coming months we will continue to deal with Covid-19 and we will be contemplating how to cast our votes in November. The most American and patriotic thing that we might do is embrace our differences. We should all insist that there is no place for insults or stereotyping. American democracy is not going to end one way or another when the votes are counted. Our nation has endured many trials and somehow comes out stronger each time, but that requires the realization that the vast majority of our 300,000,000 people have good hearts. I vote the way I do based on my personal experiences. Others choose based on theirs. We need to save our attacks for Covid-19 and not for political thoughts.