Essay–Memories and Lessons
I was born in 1970. Some of my earliest memories are of Cronkite presiding over the death-knell of the Vietnam Conflict. Strange how those images, both black and white and of a sepia-toned “color” nightmare, mix with the bright, welcoming colors of Sesame Street and The Electric Company. At some point, it all melds together without rhyme or reason. When I think about Canada, those images always flash in the back of my mind.
In 1976, my family moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for my father’s job. And that is when for the first time, I knew “hate.”
America was just coming out of the Vietnam era, although it was still in denial it hadn’t been able to “save the little yellow people from themselves.” There was still a great amount of animosity that I wouldn’t understand until I was much, much older, but the animus certainly reared its head in Canada.
I went to first grade there where I was told my country was nothing but baby-killers by other children. Where I was told that if I was from Texas, I was some kind of cow-fucker. That I was shit. That I was nothing.
Seven-year old children said these things. They bullied me. They threw rocks at me. The only real friends I had were immigrants from present day Bosnia, Ireland, and Scotland.
There were fights. There were always two or more kids trying to beat the shit out of me. Why? Because I was an American. Why did they feel that way? It’s what their parents were saying.
Children have to be programmed to hate and loathe. It just doesn’t happen otherwise. They are either trained by their parents to embrace those qualities, or they’re linked to some sleight or incident that otherwise marks them for life. Children are the quintessential tabula rasa. Parents and the society we live in are responsible for filling their brains with ideas and lessons. They absorb them. They are parrots. They are exactly what we make them.
By the time we left Canada, I’d been in the principal’s office more times than I could count. To my knowledge they never called my parents. To be honest, I think the school staff was a little more than embarrassed about the situation or they didn’t want to chance a conflict with a large pissed off Texan father. Either way, the shit continued unabated.
My sister had it worse, I guess. Probably because her level of pride in her country rubbed everyone the wrong way. When you are a guest in someone’s house, you don’t tell them that their decorating stinks, they are uneducated morons, and that without you, they’d have nothing. Maybe that’s what happened, maybe it’s not. I don’t know. Memory is an unreliable beast, especially through the eyes of a child.
Regardless, we left Canada. My family was so unhappy that my father quit his job and got us the fuck out of there. My father rolled down the windows as we crossed the border and told us to say whatever we had to say. There would be no spankings if we cursed. I don’t remember if I said anything or just screamed. Perhaps that’s for the best.
My sister still carries a lot of rage for Canada. I, however, do not. And here’s why.
These were children. Their parents, angry for thousands of reasons I can’t even begin to justify or understand, told them these things, as did the PM at the time, a certain Trudeau type person. Yes, he’s the father of the current PM. The rage, disappointment, and all the ire filtered down through the TV, loud conversations at the dinner table, the press, and Garaaga knows what else. That time period no longer exists and I’ve let it go.
At the moment, I’m hearing stories of folks painting “nigger” and swastikas on buildings. I’m hearing mixed-race children being told they’re little more than dogs. Mosques might even burn before this is all over. Not to mention another mass shooting of the “godless queers.” After all, I was told that only “faggots” vote Democrat.
I’m an American. I think EVERYONE in this country IS created equal and MUST enjoy the same rights and privileges. To marry. To love. To live. All without fear of racism, bigotry, homophobia, and sexism. I’m not concerned about the economics involved in last night’s decision. That shit is so far above my pay grade I can’t even speak to it. I doubt the POTUS-elect even has a clue about it, much less the majority of Congress.
No, what drove me to vote against the GOP nominee was the fear that certain politicians, namely his running mate, not to mention the hate-mongering group swept in when a black man was elected, would do their best to repeal the laws designed to protect Americans, ALL Americans, from discrimination in the workplace, in their homes, their neighborhoods, their country. With any luck, all this hand-wringing is much-ado about nothing. I hope so. I really do.
I don’t think any kid from any country should have to go through what I went through in Canada. I’m not naive–this was still a problem for many long before the year 2008 and the ridiculous hate continues today. So, my fellow Americans and human beings, especially those of you with children, do me a favor: think before you speak. The words DO matter. The parrots repeat them. And when they’re repeated often enough, they become thought. Then they become action.
I don’t hold a grudge against ignorant children. I refuse to hate a country because I had a bad time there. I refuse to hate an entire race of people because of a few unfortunate altercations. I just refuse to hate. Hopefully, you will too. And maybe we can save another child from growing up to think they are shit, to be afraid because they’re different, because they’re not like everyone else. Maybe because their parents are heterogenous in color. Or maybe because their parents raised them in a different religion. Not everyone is going to be like you. And who the hell would want that world anyway? Our differences are what makes a society function. And the moment it becomes a crime to be different than the status quo, it all goes to hell. If you don’t understand that, then you have no idea what we were fighting about in Europe during the 30s and 40s.
Okay, back to editing. I must finish this book so I actually have money to pay for my mortgage. Be safe. Be kind. Live up to the decency you claim regardless of your creed.
This essay is copyright 2016 by Paul E Cooley and is protected by a Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution, no derivatives 4.0 license.
This has been a presentation of Shadowpublications.com where sometimes, we believe in happy endings.