By Ernie McCray
I just finished reading a collection of essays, “La Neighbor: A Settlement House in Logan Heights,” written by a longtime friend, Maria Garcia.
Maria and I go back a ways and we’re soulmates in so many ways.
We’re writers, and activists, who’ve taken to the streets many a time in the pursuit of equality.
We’re educators who modeled, in our schools, how to treat children with respect and how to turn them on to the world of learning.
When a state law was passed requiring us, as school principals, to harass some of our families, our friends, like we were “la migra” or somebody, we, without as much as blinking, said a a loud “Hell! No!” to that.
Maria’s stories captured the spirit of Logan Heights’ old iconic Neighborhood House, a welcoming place that so many Mexican Americans considered the “heart” of their community.
What resonated with me, particularly, was how the experiences of Latinos and African Americans in this country have been very similar.
As it was with black folks, brown folks also had been told that they couldn’t swim with white people except on the day that the pool was to be drained or they couldn’t enter some places through the front door.
Brown people, too, had to endure police harassment and brutality – on a regular basis, as though it was ordained by the Constitution or some such.
Segregated schools? We’ve got that in common too.
They, as did we, and all Americans, welcomed home family members and friends from World War II and did the same for those who survived the “Police Action” in Korea – where almost 37,000 Americans died.
People came home from those armed conflicts to the “same old same old.”
In spite of those realities of the time, however, Maria captured how, out of that, many residents of the community, like those in other neighborhoods of color, or poor neighborhoods, in general, rose out of their life’s circumstances and moved on to successful lives, finding ways to contribute to society as: professors, K-12 teachers and administrators, business owners, assistants to presidents, cannery workers, historians, maids, war heroes, social workers, monks, aircraft workers, dancers and artists and musicians…
I really liked how the book highlighted how child-oriented Logan Heights was, how with Neighborhood House’s help it was a community where “young people had a feeling of being protected and safe.”
I, too, had a place like that in my neighborhood when I was growing up. It was a recreation center, next to the swimming pool in which we were allowed to swim. I’ve never felt safer anywhere than in those two places.
And, like in the essays, there were, in my life, decent caring white people who went against the attitudes of the country, and gave of their time and/or wealth to help us navigate the paths we were taking towards living with dignity.
“La Neighbor…” is a nice reminder that good people come in all colors and the more we connect with each other the more likely we are to create a world where all people count.
For that, alone, Maria’s stories were like a breath of fresh air to me, another excuse to continue my lifelong struggle for equality.