One of the most meaningful days of my life was Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, when President Barack Obama was inaugurated for the second time on the day of the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and in the year of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
That day was so meaningful because it showcased in an unmistakable way my most important belief: all humans have the same rights. Whatever shade of brown you are – and we are all one of them – whether you are male or female, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transvestite, we all have the same rights.
Rights are not subject to debate or negotiation. They should not be subject to law at all – rights are just that: yours by right of being human.
As you know, I was born and raised in Nebraska, not a state known for its diversity, although the population reflects a large number of countries. They are all European, however, not Asian or African, certainly not in most of the state. The original residents were native to America; unfortunately, they were relegated early on to reservations on poor land in north-central Nebraska and south-central South Dakota.
Where I grew up, the ancestors of the residents were primarily German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Eastern European – Czechoslovakian, Lithuanian, Russian — and Greek. In my junior high and high school, there were numbers of Hispanics but only one black student, and he was in the class behind me. In assemblies, my seatmate for six years was of Mexican descent.
When I was quite young, I don’t remember hearing my parents make negative remarks about anyone because of his/her color or background. The main thing I remember is what my Mother once said about a family who lived near Kearney.
Kearney is located in the Platte River Valley, an area where the crops are corn and soybeans as well as truck garden items such as tomatoes and watermelons. In the summer during that era, jobbers would bring in groups of Mexican citizens to help work the fields – there just weren’t enough of the local youth available to de-tassel the corn or work the bean fields.
Although the local farmers were dependent upon these migrant workers, some folks looked down on them as well as on the Hispanic families who lived in the Kearney area year round. I’ll never forget what Mom said to one of those folks, who had criticized my brother’s friend, Eddie Carranza.
“Josie (Eddie’s mother0 Carranza and her family have lived here a lot longer than you and your family have,” said Mom. “The Carranza’s were one of the original families in this region, ones who received land grants before Nebraska was a state.”
A deep silence followed her remark, one only broken when someone finally spoke and changed the subject. The person who made the critical remark – and too many others – just assumed Hispanic people should be looked down upon. It had never occurred to them to accept all individuals equally.
My seatmate through school, Alfred Aguirre, came from one of those land grant families as well. If anyone should look down on anyone, it should have been the Carranza’s and Aguirre’s looking down on the European latecomers who homesteaded in the 1880s or later.
When I learned a few years ago that Al had died before our 50th graduating class reunion, I was sad, not just because he died too soon and because I wouldn’t get to see him again. I was sad because during all of those six years we sat together through assemblies, he was never Alfred Aguirre to any teachers or administrators: he was always Alfred A’Guire. They couldn’t – or wouldn’t — even pronounce his name correctly.
Now in the year 2013, the year of notable events acknowledging the oneness of us all, I want to see progress made in recognizing and accepting immigrants into our country in a reasonable way. I want to see more progress made in recognizing and accepting everyone for who they are – male, female, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transvestite.
I want us all to say in unison “Humans all have the same rights – human rights.”