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VOICES / A Forum for Community Issues | Essay

Don't Forget That 'They's Us'

August 05, 2000|MARTHA E. LUJAN | Martha E. Lujan lives in Alhambra

I was born, raised and educated in Los Angeles. In the late '50s, I married and moved from Lincoln Heights to Alhambra, where we raised seven children, who now have blessed us with six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

My husband and I both have worked in the community as counselors. Our work has been with alcoholics and drug addicts, gang kids, abused children and seriously emotionally disturbed children and adolescents. I participated in a neighborhood forum presented by LAPD Chief Bernard Parks that was intended to provide an opportunity for people from the neighborhood to voice concerns, share thoughts and ideas, praise good and complain about the not so good. I received a sad education.

After receiving the Boyle Heights report card on street crimes, residential burglaries, assaults and grand theft auto, good people--well-educated people, patriotic people--took turns praising the police and asking them to not treat "all Mexicans" like gangsters but also asking the police to please clean up our streets by removing these gangsters, cracking down on "illegals" and while they're at it, enforcing the laws by "doing something about El Mercado's illegal activities."

I believe these are all good people, but my concern is that we Latinos often find ourselves one, two or even three generations away from our ancestors' homeland and we become so assimilated that we forget what comedian Dick Gregory once said, "Hey, they's us!" By forgetting, we begin to believe the prevailing culture's stereotypes of whom they think we are.

My father was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, and my mother was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico. They came to the U.S. at the ages of 10 and 11 with their parents and siblings. They taught me to be proud of my heritage and to be proud that I'm Mexican. In my years here, I saw my brother serve as a medic in Vietnam, my brother-in-law graduate from West Point, fight in Vietnam and retire as a colonel, and my cousin serve as a Marine for 30 years with three tours in Vietnam. Most of my uncles served in World War II, with the youngest serving in Korea. I prefer nonviolence to war, but I am proud of my family. Am I proud to be an American? Absolutely.

I also am bilingual, thanks to my parents and grandparents. I speak, read and write English well enough to be published. But I love the grandmother from East L.A. who never learned to speak English yet feels pride that her seven children served in World War II, even though one never returned.

Do we look at her askance because she doesn't speak English? Or do we honor her for her love of her adopted country and willingness to serve by supporting her sons?

I have lots of questions about what I heard at our neighborhood forum and no answers.

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