Monday, December 1, 2008

National Day of Listening Story

As part of Moonrat's National Day of Listening request for stories, I want to share a story with you. My parents were down for the holiday and we were talking about old times. My Dad reminded me of what happened on one of our old family trips.

Life was pretty hard for my parents when they moved to the states. They were poor graduate students studying at Georgia Tech University until graduating and moving to New York City, where they were poor post-graduates desperately looking for a job. My mom had a mechanical engineering degree but it was useless for her, being a woman in a male-dominated industry. My dad studied business, but it was not quite his calling either. They both suffered at various businesses, many which were disastrous failures. I remember those lean years as times when I would walk into the kitchen, a hungry little girl, and find absolutely nothing to eat. I relied on the free breakfasts and lunches of my public school to feed me during the day. For sometimes, dinner could be hit or miss. I went to bed hungry too many nights to remember.

But in my early teens, my parents were doing a little better. Enough so that we could, on occasion, go on a short family vacation in our car. My Dad loves to drive and we would drive all over the northeast region. On one such family vacation, we drove south, past Washington, DC (which we visited often) and headed south into Virginia. We had been driving all day and all of us were tired. I must have been 13 and my sister was 5. My father saw a large motel sign with the vacancy sign lit brightly. We pulled in and watched my Dad go in to rent a room. He came back a few minutes later, started the car and drove away.

"No vacancy," he said.

"But the sign..." my mom started.

My Dad just shook his head. A few miles later we saw another motel with the word Vacancy clearly lit. Once more my Dad came out, his face tight in anger as we drove away. This happened many more times that night. It was very late and we had been driving well past dinner and bedtime. My sister had fallen asleep whining of hunger and my parents were very quiet. Finally we found another motel, much smaller and a little tucked away from the main highway. My Dad got wearily out of the car and walked over one last time to the motel office. He was gone alot longer this time and when he reappeared, he drove the car down to the farthest corner of the motel, although it was clear the motel was quite empty.

We all got out of the car, me carrying my sleeping sister, and entered the small room. It was ugly but clean and we were all so relieved to be out of the car. My Mom started making some noodles for our very delayed dinner on our little portable stove top as my Dad laid down on the bed. They argued for awhile over whether or not to continue our trip further south. My Mom wanted to go home and my Dad refused. We were heading for Savannah, Georgia and then to Atlanta to meet friends. He was not going to let racist rednecks spoil his family vacation.

"Dad," I asked. "Please, can we just go home? I don't like it here."

"We're just passing through," he replied.

"But they hate us!"

"They hate what they don't know or understand," he said tiredly. "We are too different."

"I hate them too!" I yelled. I was tired and angry. "I want to go home!" And while there was plenty of racism in NYC, at least the fact that there were so many other minorities around you kept you from feeling alone and insecure. Here in this very white area, I felt we were terribly exposed. But I never forgot what he told me that day.

"If you let hate and fear rule your life, you will never enjoy living," he said. "This is not even that bad. We've seen worse hatred (yes unfortunately this is true - but I'll save it for another post) and we will probably see more. But no matter what, be proud of who you are and stand up for yourself. We have to teach these people about who we are and then maybe in the future when you grow up, you will never have to see this type of ignorance again."

He gave me a hug and said, "Despite what you feel right now, never forget that this is a great country."

So now we come back to the present day, and as we sat in the living room, after the huge American meal, with a few token Korean dishes for my Mom's sake, my Dad brought up this old incident to contrast it to our world now, where we have for the first time ever, a black President-elect. Something he never thought could happen, but which gives him great hope for the future.

"Isn't this a great country?" he said.

Yes, it most definitely is.

26 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

It makes me very sad, and very angry, that white people treated your family that way. I'm ashamed of them.

Stephen Parrish said...

Nice post, Eato. Now I know how you got your nickname.

Smittenly Written said...

That was lovely and it fits so nicely with the previous post on Freedom...

Patti said...

i grew up the daughter of a german mother in west texas. germans were still reviled. i was 1/2 german and made to explain myself and my heritage many times.

the world is amazing different, yet many feelings remain from those days. they are just better hidden.

Jacqui said...

I agree with Smittenly Written about the juxtaposition of this and the freedom post being perfect.

Your very natural angry reaction also got me thinking about how individual interactions lead to much bigger catastrophes.

moonrat said...

amazing story, ello. thank you.

mlh said...

A moving post. And it is reminscent of things in my own childhood. Yet I never forgot back then (and today) that there are so many wonderful people in all colors, and just because a few people have such misplaced thinking does not hold true for an entire race.

strugglingwriter said...

That is a great post. Thanks for sharing.

Sorry you had to go through all of this. It is just amazing to me that people would treat other people this way.

Paul

JaneyV said...

That was such a moving post and I think your Dad is such a wise man. Thank you for sharing your story. I feel very optimistic for the future. There's still a ways to go before we have the kind of tolerant world I hope for my children but I'm glad we're going in the right direction.

Melissa Marsh said...

Wow. What a story. I am so sorry this happened to your family.

But your father was absolutely right - this IS a great country, despite its many faults. Each of us have to contribute to making it better and better, every single day.

Larramie said...

Yes this is a great country, always was and always will be as long we live to make it so.

ChrisEldin said...

This is an awesome story, Ello. One you probably could expand...

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm sorry to hear the story, but yes...what a great country.
(Hopefully.)

Sarah Hina said...

I'm sorry you had to suffer like that, Ello--it's almost unbelievable how small and mean people can be.

But you're right to focus on the positive. After all, that very same state (Georgia) almost (so close!) voted for a black man for President this time around.

Your daughters' generation will see even more progress. Thank God.

Thanks so much for sharing this painful, but beautiful, family moment. Your dad is quite a guy.

Aine said...

Thanks for sharing, Ello! Though racism angers me greatly, I am heartened to see the changes that are occurring in the space of just one generation.

Precie said...

Thanks for sharing this, Ello! And way to go, Ello's Dad! What a great way to handle the experience. And obviously it's an experience that has stayed with him too.

spyscribbler said...

Wow, that's horrid. I'm so sorry that happened. Your dad is a very strong man. You must be so proud of him, his vision, and what he did to make it possible for your girls to (I hope!) grow up in a much better way.

Thank you for sharing...

Kim Kasch said...

What a horrible memory. So sorry.

Mary Witzl said...

Aw, Ello, this is such a good post and how I wish I'd been there with your family to help your father kick those rednecks' butts. And yet I know that this was something he had to do for himself, and good for him for not holding it against all the other Caucasian-Americans -- and for not teaching you kids to hate. I wish I could meet your dad.

We've been through similar experiences in a variety of places and have some idea of the BS you've had to go through. And you -- and your dad -- are so right. Obama said that his victory showed how much African-Americans have progressed, and that is certainly true. But just as much, it showed how much white people have evolved.

Ann Victor said...

Your Dad sounds like a great guy!

Pamala Knight said...

What a powerful story and I'm so glad that you and your dad shared it with the rest of us. It's amazing that not so long ago, your experience was the norm but not so much so, nowadays. Thank you for sharing.

laughingwolf said...

my parents were non-english speaking immigrants, too, and being poor, we suffered prejudices as well... but i'm sure not as much as you did

i've always easily made friends with folk from all nations, perhaps because of that early experience

but yes, it continues to this day, even if it's [mostly] well hidden, like patti sez

Nandini said...

Hi Ello,
Thanks for posting this! I didn't grow up here but my husband did. His father came here as a grad student in the sixties, right after the 1965 immigration act first allowed Asians free entry into th U.S. They had similar experiences. My mil always wore a sari (still does), so you can imagine how well they blended in :-). But their attitude was similar to your dad's. I'm proud of them!

Shana said...

Wow, what a great story. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Queen of the Road said...

Wonderful post.

J. L. Krueger said...

Hello Ello!

Great Post! Your dad is a great man. You are very lucky.