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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Overcoming the Prejudices of Others

Doris Hollenbach Meneses and her lovely family. Doris grew up on Rowe Street in Tamaqua PA - she now lives near Miami FL

Dr. Martin Luther King Day is observed next Monday, the 20th of January.  This federal holiday is celebrated, on Dr. King’s birthday. It is combined with other days in different states. For example, it is combined with Civil Rights Day in Arizona and New Hampshire, and with Human Rights Day in Idaho. It is also a day that is combined with Robert E. Lee’s birthday in some states. In Wyoming it is known as Equality Day.
  Believe it or not, I have a reason as to why I associate with the way Dr. King must have felt in many situations in his life.  Yes, the King and I go way back.
  Martin Luther King, an African American, was a civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1968.  He was a leader in the movement to end racial segregation in the United States and an advocate of non-violent protests.  He was also the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Bottom line, he brought to light the struggle against racism which many wanted to keep in the dark.
  Now you may be asking, “How can this Caucasian woman possibly relate to Dr. Martin Luther King?”  Well I am going to tell you.
  I grew up in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania.  In this town and for miles surrounding it, there were no Hispanics or African Americans. The highlight of the week as a youngster was going to the main street in town and watching the truck from Philadelphia deliver to the J. J. Newbery store as the man driving was usually of African American heritage and we had never seen this type of person before.  Oh sure, there was an African American gentleman in town named Chalky Ray who rode on a skateboard as he lost his legs from the hips down in a train accident when he was a kid. But he was just a town fixture and we really didn’t see him as being African American.  The truck driver was the real thing!
  Skip forward to December of 1973.  This young girl was living in South Florida since graduating high school the year before. I was going back to Pa. for the holidays and taking a very dark skinned, Hispanic boy with me - my
boyfriend.  Talk about being the talk of the town. I felt the prejudice stares. I heard the remarks made. I saw the people whispering and pointing. My own family questioned the relationship and were at a point that they were threatening to disown me if the relationship continued.
  Fast forward to the summer of 1983.  I was now a mother of three with a dark-skinned Hispanic husband who decided to go on summer vacation back in my PA hometown.  Mr. Wonderful, my dark-skinned Hispanic husband, son Daniel, then 6 with red hair and olive skin, middle child, three-year-old Jessie with fair skin and black hair and then there was the baby, my little brown girl, Debi who was 6 months old.  Oh, she had beautiful brown skin like her daddy’s. Again, I saw the stares.  I heard the whispers. And when my husband wasn’t with me, I was often told how sweet it was that I adopted my little Debi.
  Forward now to today.  I am married to Mr. Wonderful for over 38 years and we have three successful children and four grandchildren.  Little Debi, my brown skinned girl, thankfully has a great personality to persevere and ignore the stares and comments about her skin color and her “white mama”.  In fact, as a teacher, she loves to surprise her students by having them meet her mother and watching the shock on their faces.
  Someone told me a few weeks ago that I was a “pioneer” of inter-racial marriages.  I don’t think so….I just feel that we worked hard at our marriage like everyone else.  Yes, I have felt the effects of racism.  I’m sure it was nothing like African Americans felt in the earlier days but still, I felt it and yes, it hurt.  It stung stronger than any bee could bite.  Yes, I cried at times but yet I knew that once people got to know Mr. Wonderful and looked beyond the color of his skin, they would realize what a gem I had found….and they did.
  Looking back, I really don’t understand how I came out of that small town without being somewhat prejudiced.  It was just the way we were brought up - sheltered in a way from the hardships of Dr. King’s world.  I always strived to teach my children not to see the color of a person’s skin, their body size or any type of difference in their appearance.  I admire and respect Dr. King for the fight he fought for so many people.  Just to be treated normally as I wanted to be seen as a normal family.  Yes, I can certainly relate - to the King and I.

Reprinted with permission from Doris. Doris met her husband Elias when she was a checker at Winn-Dixie and he was a bagger. That is how he bagged her.

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