It was in a bus like this that I was driven in to an all-white school after being plucked out of my normal school. I don’t know if my Mother received a letter from the district or not. She spoke little English and worked long hours cleaning houses for the wealthy ranchers. I remember being scared. There were only a handful of us being driven to another city approximately 10 miles away. All we were told was, “you kids are going to another school.” I had no idea what desegregation was or what its implications would be on my life. As we arrived I saw a sea of white faces. They were young like me, I didn’t immediately fear them, but the parents who were dropping them off looked at me as if I was different. They were angry, they mumbled under their breath and other parents spoke to each other in hushed tones as they pointed at us.
As we were led into the principal’s office we were met by a short statured man with a balding head and glasses. He frowned as he looked us over, I don’t remember his exact words to be honest with you. I do remember his look of disapproval. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were everything they detested. They had tried so hard to maintain an all-white school, an environment that was what they considered healthy and would permit the white children in the school to go through life without being tainted by these children of color. Their contact with people like me was traditionally limited to seeing me at the store or the public library where we sat in a different section. Nobody told me I had to sit there. It was just the way things were done. I also remember having contact with these white children when my Mother cleaned their houses. Sometimes she would bring me along to throw the trash out and help pick up the kids toys. They spoke very little to me other than to show me their latest toys, and then they would then run off to play while I returned to helping mom with her duties as a housekeeper.
The classroom environment was horrendous. We could never quite reach the same grades as my classmates. No matter how much my sister, who by then had entered Stanford University on a scholarship told me that my letter formation was perfect and that my school work was excellent, the teacher just didn’t seem to see me on the same level as the other students. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was nine years old and wore glasses. I requested the most coveted position in the school. I wanted to do a week stint as a crossing guard. When my turn came around, I was passed over. I didn’t understand it. It was beyond reason. I had done everything I was supposed to do. The teacher couldn’t explain it to me either.
One day as I was sitting in class, a young white boy turned to talk to me; he wanted answers for the test we were taking. I refused to talk to him, I ignored him, and he made such a raucous that the teacher singled me out and said that I had been talking and asked me to turn my desk facing the back of the room. We minorities already occupied the back row of the classroom. I was kept that way for months.
On a spring break from Stanford my sister visited our home and she asked me how things were going at school. I shared my dilemma with her. I had to twist my body half way around during the entire day to look at the chalk board as the teacher taught. She asked me how long I had been that way. I told her it had been since the beginning of the school year. She was furious. She turned to my mother and said “tomorrow we are going to the school to set this thing straight.” I could hardly sleep that night. I didn’t know what would happen, what type of retribution I would receive for having been a whistle blower.
If you recall back then, they didn’t have the intercom system in elementary schools and the principal would walk the parents to the classroom. When my sister and my mother arrived and told the principal what had been going on, he tried to deny them access to the classroom to see me. My sister by now had been exposed to a different environment at Stanford and was keenly aware of civil rights and was as you could probably imagine quite an intelligent young woman. She demanded they be taken to my classroom. Upon entering the classroom they observed my desk as it had been for months, facing away from the front of the classroom. The principal promptly announced to the teacher that the folks with him were Carlos’ mother and sister. The teacher, I remember her name to this day, Mrs. Cecil, said, “Carlos, honey, for Gods’ sake turn your desk around, you can’t see what’s going on that way.” Those words are like indelible ink tattooed in my memory. I was allowed to go home early that day, or perhaps it was my sister and my mother that insisted I go with them after observing the abuse.
Recess wasn’t any better. I don’t blame the kids for calling me filthy names like “dirty Mexican”, “wetback”, “beaner”, or for making fun of the way I was dressed with clothes from the second hand store or hand me down worn out tennis shoes that the ranchers would give my mother after their kids were done with them or had outgrown them. The name calling and the hatred was simply learned behavior. This is what they heard over dinner from mom and dad or when friends came over. The system itself facilitated the demeaning and degrading of minorities. It had been that way for hundreds of years.
This nightmare scenario was repeated when I was bussed to another all white school in another part of the city when I was eleven years old. I suppose they figured I was a seasoned “desegregator”, if you’ll permit me to take the liberty to invent a new word. As part of the front line of desegregation I suppose it’s apropos to create a word that long ago should have been created to describe these brown and black children that were tossed into a sea of white children and forced to weather the racial elements.
I wonder how many of my “bussed” classmates have ever taken the time to write down just a few of their thoughts regarding their experiences as part of the tip of desegregation. I wonder what has become of these brown children who were subjected to such harsh treatment by their peers and educators. Have they withheld it as something too painful to bring up, have they ever shared it with their children, or were they too ashamed to talk about it?
For those of you who have ever wondered what it is that drives me to defend the rights of the underprivileged, I hope this gives you an insight as to just a small portion of the pain and suffering I endured as a Mexican Immigrant living in the United States, and somewhat explains my motivation in seeking justice for the oppressed.
I love this country. I certainly don’t blame all whites for what some have done to me, and for what some continue to do to me, even 43 years after my desegregation experiences.
Carlos E. Galindo is a radio talk show host & political analyst conducting radio shows in both English and Spanish on four radio stations in Arizona. Mr. Galindo is a weekly contributor to KPFK 98.7 FM Los Angeles and W60 AM Radio, Los Angeles, San Diego and has appeared on CNN, Univision and Telemundo as a political analyst. Mr. Galindo is also an Op-Ed columnist on Prensa Hispana and the Tucson Citizen in Arizona. Carlos Galindo is President and founder of the Immigrant Advocacy Foundation, Inc.