My daughter Maia entered a writing competition put on by the City of Los Angeles. It was part of African-American History and the theme was "From Civil Wars to Civil Rights" and the students from middle school and high school could write poetry, essays that should be one page long. I convinced her to enter it and interview her nina (godmother) Karen. Her nina grew up on the east coast and has some amazing stories which should be a book. Maia kept asking if we had heard anything yet and yesterday I told her that she probably didn't win because we had not heard anything from them via phone or email. (wow that sounds really cold in writing…I was really careful choosing my words mi gente, I swear)
I told her I was proud of her and the mere fact that she went for it, she was a winner. The experience was great and in doing this, she learned some new things about her nina Karen. Though winning is great, the experience is far much more. I told her to continue to learn, write and enter as many contests as she wants and each would hold a different lesson. Her response? "yeah mom…it was cool learning something new about nina…but it would have been cool to win." Maybe next time? Absolutely!
So as the proud mother hen…here is her story to share:
It was a hot summer's morning. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining and it was a special day for one particular little girl. Her name was Karen Lee. Karen lived in New Jersey with her mother. Karen had long brown hair, a perfectly curved smile and beautiful brown eyes. She was nine and it was about the time with ever so much racism. Karen never really knew about racism or the problems in the south. On that particular morning, Karen's aunt Helen was taking her to her grandparents house in North Carolina for their 50th wedding anniversary.
On that morning, Karen wore her best dress. It was blue with a white lace at the bottom. Karen was helping her mother prepare a shoe box with tender and juicy fried chicken, scrumptious macaroni salad and sweet lemonade. A couple of minutes later, Karen's aunt was at the door saying it was time to go. As they entered Virginia they noticed a billboard that said "You are now entering Klan country" and with it was a picture of a Klan member dressed in white who was holding a black man tied to a noose. Everyone in the car was silent. Karen could feel that the atmosphere in the car was very awkward. She had no idea what the Klan was but by the way everyone was silent, she could tell it was something wrong. The rest of the drive was in total silence.
As they pulled up to the house, there was a warm breeze, the air smelled of tobacco. Her grandparents were farmers and they farmed tobacco, peanuts and cotton. This was different from New Jersey. As Karen stepped into the house, she desperately needed to use the restroom. She told her grandmother and she gave Karen a lantern and pointed to an outhouse . In the outhouse it smelled of boiled eggs and it was dark. Once again Karen thought that this was different from New Jersey. What else was different?
Two days later Karen and her aunt Helen drove into a part of town call Rocky Mountain, North Carolina. Karen's mother had given her fifty dollars to buy the grandparents a gift. As Karen was walking down the street she saw a beautiful magenta stained scale that she wanted to buy. As she walked towards the store she felt her aunt was holding her back. She had seen a sign that Karen did not. It was a sign that said "No coloreds allowed." The owner of the store came out and said in a raspy and grumpy voice, "What do you want!" Aunt Helen explained that Karen wanted to buy the scale and his response was "I don't serve Ni***** here in the front but you can come to the back where no one can see." Aunt Helen immediately refused. As they walked away, Karen had to use the restroom. She saw that there was a restroom for "whites" and a restroom for "Ni*****" As they went inside, there was a pungent odor and there was no toilet paper. That day, Karen learned that she was very lucky to have a clean bathroom and plumbing back in New Jersey and that her home and her neighborhood seemed safer than North Carolina.
Karen Lee is now an adult and she is my "nina," my godmother. She shared a piece of her history which is a piece of African American history with me. History are stories that share so that we can learn lessons from and learn where people come from. I am ever so lucky that she shared a piece of her history with me. I learned that it is wrong to treat others differently because of their color. We all breathe, we all live and we all have a voice.