A Black Man Says: ‘Viva la Raza!’

by on June 12, 2009 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, From the Soul, Organizing, War and Peace

by Ernie McCray

My old Latino friends from John Spring Junior High, back in Tucson, must be bursting with pride as Sonia Sotomayor closes in on a seat on the Supreme Court – just as I’ve been riding high knowing there’s a brother in the White House.

It all seems like a link to our contributions to society when we made school desegregation work in our part of town back in1951. Now, it really wasn’t that big a deal to us since we were already neighbors. We just hadn’t attended school together because Jim Crow didn’t play that. But we showed that rascal. With a “What’s happening” here and a “Que paso” there we showed what love can do.

We were way more prepared for our task than our stereotypes would have suggested. There were several scholars who totally put to rest the myth of the dumb Negro. And some of mis amigos are among the smartest people I know.

John Spring touched my soul in ways that make me flinch when I hear expressions like “spic” or “greaser” as much as when “nigger” or “coon” reaches my ears.

Because of John Spring, terms like “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens” create visions in my mind of everyday families I knew who were merely striving to survive: harvesting the foods we eat; making a motel or hotel room comfy so that we can enjoy our vacations and business trips; keeping our cars going.

Thoughts of my John Spring days definitely came into play when, a few years ago, Californians passed Prop 187, a hateful scheme that required me, as a school principal, to check my students’ ID’s to see if they were here illegally. My attitude was: “Are you kiddin’ me?” Hey, a few kids at my school fit the category. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and all the state troopers and the Minutemen couldn’t make me disrespect those young dear friends of mine. Not in this lifetime.

How could I have ever faced my John Spring classmates again if I had let myself be sucked in by such madness, by such a social and political sin? With all the times I’ve marched for some issue regarding my community like, say, police brutality, with Chicanos stepping along right beside me? No siree.

And me besides them like in front of Vons or Albertsons for Cesar’s struggle in behalf of campesinos being dogged by too many ruthless farm owners – pushing my twins in a stroller with one hand and handing out flyers with the other hand and singing “Farm workers, Si, California Grapes, No!”

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the connection to John Spring more powerfully than when I left my house, on foot, one day, to join an immigration rally in downtown San Diego. Just a few blocks out of my neighborhood I began hearing the humming like sounds of people’s voices as they poured out from side streets to the south of me, from a couple of barrios. And none of us, I don’t think, as we walked, were prepared to see what awaited us when we got to the edge of the B Street hill and looked down and ahead out at a sea of brown people as far as one could see. When we all got downtown we found ourselves in the midst of 50,000 to 80,000 people easily.

Moving along the street in step with the beat of people who were overflowing with pride and dignity, I felt like singing: “Hail to John Spring Junior High” because the scene felt so deja vu. Black and Brown together. As I leant my bass voice to the chorus of La Gente de Aztlan voices singing, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” it felt like an extension of our work as classmates, integrating a school, slowly integrating a community. Then later in life witnessing a truly brand new day, a day when a Latina is being considered as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the USA. That’s something that back in the day we couldn’t have imagined any more than we could have wrapped our minds around a black man ascending to the presidency.

But, ah, the joy of it all. Viva la Raza. Viva the loving people throughout the world.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar lane tobias June 12, 2009 at 8:01 am

one of my favorite memories from growing up was in my mother’s 6th grade classroom when I was five or six years old. As a teacher in Hackensack, NJ for over 40 years, she had seen the face of the neighborhood elementary school on Jackson Ave. change drastically from year to year – from Italian and Jewish immigrants, to predominantly black families from the South, and later, at the time I’m speaking of until today, mostly recently arrived families from Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. On that day, I was for some reason off from school and her students had BEGGED her to bring me in to show off – so she did.

At my own school I was no stranger to foreign language; I had very close friends who spoke Spanish, Creole, Polish, Hebrew, French, and Arabic. But at that age none of my friends had yet to teach me how to curse in their native language. So as I sat in the room that day, my mother finished a lesson and stepped out of the room to go to the bathroom. One of her favorite students, whose name escapes me, leaned over and asked me “Do you know how to say shit in Spanish?” Of course, I said no, and thus my orientation to abusive language in Spanish began. When my mom walked back in the room to continue teaching, she had no idea what her son had just been taught. My new friends winked at me, making sure that it stayed between us. I felt special.

I didn’t bring this up to emphasize the crude aspect of it; I just wanted to retell a story that has stayed with me over the years. Anyone who says they don’t see just another human being when they look at an “illegal” immigrant has never had a true kinship with someone from another country. I agree with you Ernie; Viva la Raza. The joy of seeing Judge Sotomayor’s smiling face on the Supreme Court will be a testament to our country as a melting pot, not affirmative action. It is about damn time that someone with tough life experiences AND an ivy league education was given the opportunity to sit on the high court. She has earned the honor ten times over.


avatar Ernie McCray June 12, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Amen!I hate the assumption that judges don’t bring their life experiences to work with them – as though it keeps one from “being fair.”


avatar jon June 12, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Great piece Ernie! As a guy so Irish that his skin burns like a vampire when laying on the beach, I say, “viva la raza, viva diversity and viva progression!


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