“What kind of name is Yossarian?” March 25, 2008

I’ve been meaning to blog about race for quite some time.  I’ve touched on the subject briefly on a couple of old blogs, but I’ve been meaning to cover it more in depth for a while now.  I’ve never directly blogged about the issue (save for one on my physical similarity to Arabs).  I haven’t done it for two reasons.  One, every time I began to write on the subject it became as long as my four part series on how to survive a mass shooting.  Also, to be honest, I was holding off because I intended to do some research and write an article I was going to submit for paid publication. My memories of the effort I expended getting my Black Belt magazine article published for the payout I received has discouraged me from that avenue. 

 

Then John Hawkins’ wrote a column that inspired me to finally put down my thoughts on the subject. 

 

Click here for John Hawkins article

 

Kick back boys and girls, this one may get rather long, but I believe it’s topical.

 

I’m uniquely qualified to talk about the subject.  That doesn’t make any one else unqualified to discuss it as we all can draw on our personal experiences.  The problem is the injection of filters.  Admittedly I have my own, but my experience is a unique one.  Ironically and in many ways it is very similar to Senator Obama’s, although I derived something very different from mine. 

 

Ethnically speaking, I’m just as much a mongrel as anyone in the US, or the entire planet.  My father’s heritage is Scott Irish (with others mixed in as well).  He was born and raised in Michigan.  My mother is Puerto Rican (which is of itself a mixed ethnic group).  She was raised on the island.  I spent some time looking into my ancestry and was surprised by what I discovered, as I’m sure most people would be if they took the time.  For example, the Hubble Family Society says that every single Hubble in the US (regardless of whether you spell it Hubble, Hubbell or Hubel) all come from the same descendant.  This means that I may be related to Edwin Hubble the astronomer.  I find this staggering! Particularly since I haven’t received a single residual from whatever money’s been made off that telescope.  I’m still looking into it.  Plus I’m partly Canadian and I have an actual clan tartan.The Mcintaugh clan.

 

I was raised partly in the US, Puerto Rico and Europe from birth to age six.  Then we settled in Puerto Rico when I was seven until I joined the Navy at age seventeen.  The amalgam of my parental cultural heritage and my upbringing has made me an enigma to some people who (human nature being what it is), try to put me into some comfortable shelf in order to define “what” I am.  I don’t blame them.  I confuse myself sometimes. 

 

My unique perspective stems from how people who come in contact with me treat me.  For example, while being raised on the island, because of my last name and the fact that we spent the first few years of our lives off the island, most of the islanders referred to my siblings and I as “Los hermanos gringos”. 

 

You would think calling me a gringo is funny, considering my appearance, but Puerto Rican’s are a bit unique when it comes to physical appearance.  In PR, they don’t separate themselves by color into different ethnic groups.  Color is mostly a descriptive.  You’re either a blonde haired, blue eyed Rican or a black as night Rican.  Either way you’re Puerto Rican.  We long ago stopped raising eyebrows at couples who were distinctly and physically different in color.  In fact, the supposed “classic” Rican is defined as a combination of Spaniard, African and Taino (Arawac) Indian.  I believe this is historically inaccurate and there are many more.  In my own family on the island there’s even a direct French ancestor.  Then there’s the fact that Puerto Rico has been a US Commonwealth for over a hundred years.  There were plenty of horny gringos at the beginning of the last century planting their seeds all over the island. But I’m digressing.

 

By the same token, outsiders are defined as such regardless of skin color.  I wasn’t treated poorly as a “gringo” on the island.  In fact, after a brief introductory period when I’d infrequently get into a fight with some wannabe comedian for mangling my last name and using it to make fun of me, I fit right in.  The fact that I was a “gringo” became one of those things they’d remember only occasionally (usually when my last name came up again).  I’ve heard at least ten phonetic pronunciations of Hubble.  The first day of school always made me cringe.  I’m sure anyone with an odd surname can relate.  However, the anomaly of being slightly different always gave me the perspective of an outsider looking in.  It bothered me sometimes and sometimes I used it to my advantage.  The advantages usually outweighed the problems it created.

 

Then, when I joined the Navy and came back to the continent I was called “the Puerto Rican guy”.  Physically that fit, but I was actually born in Seattle Washington.  How funny is that?  Some people thought I was from New York.  I had not spent a day in New York, but apparently I had a New York accent.  This is because where I was raised on the island most people spoke English like either Desi Arnaz or Tony Soprano.  I  adopted the Tony Soprano inflection, but believe you me, I have many relatives on the island who talk just like Desi.  The point being that now I was being put into another slot that “differentiated” me. 

 

When I reported to my first ship, the Puerto Ricans and other Latinos expected me to immediately hang with them in their Latino cliques.  For a brief period I actually welcomed this bonding, until I figured out that none of them actually shared my “heritage”.  Some of the Ricans from NY (we call them Niuyoricans on the island) didn’t even speak a lick of Spanish.  They were very proud to call themselves Puerto Rican, but they had no clue about their ancestral heritage from the island.  They in fact put me in yet another sub-group since I was from the island itself.  They called me Jibaro, which to them meant I was “fresh off the boat”.  They didn’t even know the origin of that particular moniker (it was a term used by a Spanish author by the name of Miguel Alonso in a book by the same name a about three hundred years ago).  I had absolutely nothing in common with any other Latino group. 

 

Ironically, I got along very well with a guy whose family came from Cuba.  He was a blonde haired blue eyed guy named Rodriguez.  He spoke better Spanish than most of the Ricans on the ship.  We often joked that we should swap last names because of our incongruous physical features.  This even led me to briefly giving some thought to legally changing my last name to my mother’s (Torres). 

 

My very first experience with racism came from a Latino guy on that very ship.  He was a Chicano (this was a moniker he gave himself) from East LA.  I had befriended a guy named Mike Melko.  He actually wound up being the best man at my first wedding.  We were all in the Deck division of the ship.  The Latinos had a clique of about six guys in the division.  Their Latin cultural heritage was as diverse as any other.  When I began hanging out with Mike, the Chicano approached me and asked me why I was hanging out with that “guero”.  His tone was that of a cross parent addressing a wayward child.  He was about six or seven years older than I was so I guess he thought he was entitled.  His problem became two-fold.  One, I was very resistant to authority in my teen years.  Two, I didn’t take kindly to people telling me what to do, regardless of age.  The subsequent exchange sealed my fate with that particular Latino clique.  Now I was a gringo again.

 

I discovered something very quickly on that first ship.  First of all, I figured out that being Latino did not immediately qualify someone to be a friend of mine.  Let’s face it, there are assholes everywhere.  There are plenty of assholes on the island I wouldn’t give a minute of my time to and that applied universally.  The Latino guys who became good friends of mine did so in spite of their ethnicity.  One of them a Niuyorican who spent the latter part of his teen years on the island and another a Tejano from Kerville Texas. 

 

So if being Latino did not immediately qualify someone for my friendship, then it certainly didn’t qualify you for my vote, my patronage or my support.  In other words, I learned to deal with people on their merits.  Thankfully, at a very young age. 

 

I’ve only been called a Spic two times to my face in my life.  In only one occasion was it done in anger (some guys don’t react very well when the women they have designs on opt for a better option).  I’ve only met one person who I’d call a true racist.  Ironically he was one of the best Chief’s I served under in the Navy and even he never held me back. 

 

The various other non-insulting things I’ve been called (Gringo, Jibaro, Puerto Rican, Boricua) were names other people gave me (I’ve also been called Arabic, Italian, Greek and on one strange occasion, Philipino). 

 

Here’s the thing; I have never been denied a single opportunity because of my ethnicity and skin color.  Even if it had been done, unbeknownst to me, my ethnicity and skin color would be the last thing I’d use as an excuse.  For one thing they’re factors out of my control and I’m very big on controlling my fate and destiny.  For another, once you go down the victimhood road you might as well go down it with your pants around your ankles. 

 

What is my point?  That assholes come in all colors?  That ignorance is just as universal? That there is no pure race, therefore, there should be no racism? 

 

To be perfectly honest, I really don’t give the subject much thought anymore.  Or I at least don’t let the militants, extremists and opportunists bother me as much anymore. I think that people who make excuses for themselves will use the most convenient of excuses and people who hate will find a reason to hate no matter what color you are.  People’s perceptions are their realities and you can’t shake them from their trees if they were on fire.

 

What makes me ultimately comfortable is the fact that most people are just like me.  Reasonable and rational.  We take people at their merits and based on how they treat us.  We’re proud of our uniqueness, but don’t wear our ethnicity on our sleeves.  And thankfully, regardless of our individual colors and ethnic backgrounds, we are still in the majority.  We just don’t make as much noise.

 

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