And Now, A Word From My Mother

On the eve of my birthday, I would like to allow a guest blogger to address you all.

My mom has been emailing everyone she knows as of late, encouraging them to vote for Barack Obama in their upcoming primaries. This is from the email she sent out last night.

And now, without further ado, I present, my mom:

As this day of commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. draws to a close, I recall again the August of 1963, 2 weeks after this jungli arrived in the US, when I watched the March on Washington together with my very progressive home stay family - a Presbyterian Minister and his family, in a very white suburb in NJ. I didn't understand what it was that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the people in Washington were protesting - from what little I had seen of America, life seemed pretty good for everyone.

In the summer of 1964 I accompanied several of my classmates to Clifton Forge, Virginia, to teach CCD. The housekeeper of the rectory where we were staying for the summer had been hospitalized. The hospital had a wing for white patients and a separate wing for "coloreds". My classmates insisted I enter the hospital through the "whites only" entrance. When it came time to use the restrooms my classmates insisted I go with them into the "whites only" restrooms and drink from the "whites only" water fountains. All this much to the chagrin of many of the white employees and visitors and to great amusement of my classmates and me still pretty clueless about what this all meant.

Fortunately, the college I attended in Washington confronted these issues head on - from class discussions to participation in demonstrations to volunteering with others to make the changes, very small in comparison, that we are now reaping the fruits of.

In September 1964, I met my future husband. A few weeks after we met, we tried to get into a nightclub and were refused admission - I was not white. There were other incidences over the years, too. After we were married in 1967, and came to Chicago, there were several times when we were refused rentals of apartments because the landlords rented to whites only (illegal in Illinois, but practiced nonetheless). There were other instances where we were ignored in restaurants and had to ask for service; and numerous times where unknown passer byes would taunt and insult us. Mixed marriages were not common in the late 60s and early 70s

I often recall the hierarchy that existed in Zanzibar and even in our church. I am especially reminded of the velvet lined benches (kneelers and seats) for the "expatriates", upfront near the altar (I recall we would tease our friends that they wanted to be Zungus, if we saw them in these benches at week day morning mass when the Wazungus weren't there); the Goans sat in the pews where the altar view was unobstructed - "boyside" on the left, "girlside" on the right; all Africans sat in the side pews where the view of the altar was either partially or completely obstructed. No one was assigned to these pews - people just understood where their place was.

At Christmastime or Eastertime, the Africans (and only the Africans) - from town and the shambas - had to go to the rectory where the priest would check the baptismal records before issuing them a ticket which they had to display when they went up to the altar rails for communion at Christmas and Easter masses. The ticket cost 2 shillings - a lot of money at that time . The ticket had to be held between the thumbs and the hands joined in prayer. I remember that several who didn't have their ticket (either because they lost it, or forgot it, or couldn't afford it) were bypassed by the priest and received no communion and were very obviously embarrassed and distressed. Yet no one complained or protested.

We have come a long way in the past 40-some years both in Zanzibar and the US. In Zanzibar the political situation changed these practices. In the US it took people like Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and others to effect the change and Congress and Presidents like Lyndon B. Johnson to sign it into law. It is a testament to those who fought and died for this cause that we can look at what their legacy has brought us here in America. As Lewis said "we have many immigrants in key positions in the government and corporate America" This year Bobby Jindal, a son of Indian immigrants, was sworn in as Governor of Louisiana. He is the first non-white governor ever, in any state. And for the first time ever, we are on the threshold of perhaps having a biracial Barack Obama (son of a black Kenyan and white Kansasan) become a standard bearer for the Democratic Party for President of the USA.

For those of you Democrats who live in South Carolina - appreciate your civil rights and celebrate your love of freedom and opportunity by voting in your primary on Sat. 26th and then again in November; and those in Florida, the 29th is your day to make your vote count; and the rest of many of us on the forum - February 5th is a big day - 42 states will be holding primaries to narrow down the selection of who will be on the ballot for President in November. And this time next year (Jan. 20, 2009), we will have sworn in our new President.

We all have been very fortunate in this country which continues to be a beacon of hope to the rest of world (yes, despite our foreign policy,people are dying to get into our country) and a land of opportunity where everyone with tenacity and hard work can achieve their version of the American Dream. Let us not take things for granted. Let us exercise the right that we have gained as citizens - get involved and help make a difference and hopefully we will achieve a place where people will be judged "not by the color of their skin but the content of their character".

You have the power!


Anonymous said…
Thank you Jo!
Steff said…
Your mom rocks!

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