Wednesday, June 26, 2013

this is the way prejudice ends (not with a bang but a whisper)

When our son Chris was born, Meg and I went into full nanny-search mode. We were both still practicing law. We needed help. We wanted nothing less than Mary Poppins. We lived in LA, so I don’t have to tell you that what we got was a succession of nannies who acted the part but reverted to narcissism as soon as the director left the set. Among others, there was the proper English nanny who took Chris to her apartment for trysts with her boyfriend and let him cry in his crib while she soaked in our jacuzzi tub. I learned all this from Sonia Aguilar.

Sonia and Chris (with his shoes)
Sonia was our housekeeper. She came in a few days a week and cleaned up and occasionally made dinner for us and left it in the oven. She is from El Salvador, and when we met, she didn’t speak English well (or thought she didn’t), which, coupled with her natural modesty, caused us to be slow to realize that she didn’t always have time to finish her cleaning because she was taking care of Chris while the nanny was doing god knows what. Eventually we figured it out and I asked my secretary, who spoke Spanish, to ask Sonia to be our nanny. Never mind the language barrier, she clearly loved our son. I learned to say “¿Dónde están tus zapatos,” which seemed to be the question she asked Chris the most.
The parents of my daughter-in-law Yvonne were born in Korea. She and Cord met at Penn and have two beautiful children, all the more beautiful because of their diverse parentage. There is something in my children that attracts them to Asians. Even when we lived in Nashville, Chris’s best friend was of Korean ancestry. After we got to Palo Alto, most of his friends, and a big chunk of Nick’s, were Asian: Indian, Chinese, Korean. This must explain why I like Jackie Chan movies.
Our next-door neighbor here was a man named Art Fong. Art was the number six engineer at Hewlett Packard. He and Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard all worked in one room then. When one of them had an engineering question, they called it out to the others. Art told me that in 1945, when he built his house, our street was the “Chinese neighborhood”--meaning Chinese could live there, as opposed to “Old Palo Alto,” where they were not welcome. Art used to come to parties at our house and hold forth on his engineering feats for Nick and his robotics pal Jon Xia. He kept them transfixed. The exclusion he had to deal with as a young man must have seemed to them as if it were from another era, not something that would have to be faced by a man whose patents at one time accounted for twenty-seven percent of HP’s revenue.
We had known some friends in Santa Barbara for five or six years before someone told me they were gay. Even though I have seen them with their partners now, they still don’t talk about it. They come from a time when that was the best approach. Nick has many gay friends from high school and college. No big deal. Meg and I see our writer friends who are gay all the time. The novelty is so long past that now, when I see the anger on the faces in the news of those who believe that homosexuality is a moral abomination, I wonder if I’m not looking back in time.

I think I am. Most of us can’t be around people and not develop empathy for them. Blacks, Hispanics, gays. It’s just a matter of exposure. It’s like getting inoculated against a disease. You have to be exposed to the virus. Maybe you feel a little queasy at first. But when you get over the initial symptoms, you begin to feel fine again. And best of all, after that you don’t get sick again.

1 comment:

  1. In this day and age, we're all exposed to the diverse. Impossible not to be. But it's human nature to want to associate with those who are like minded, and there's nothing wrong with that. Regardless of their skin color, sexual preference, or any other superficial quality.