My husband grew up on a farm in the southwest corner of Minnesota. He is of German, English and Irish origin. He is also a Freddy Fender fan. Freddy Fender, now deceased, was Hispanic, born in South Texas, not far from San Antonio, in a little town called San Benito. The Freddy Fender CD is not just one of his favorite CD’s, it is his absolute favorite CD above all others.
One of the songs on his “Best of Freddy Fender” CD’s is called “Vaya Con Dios.” Vaya con dios, means “go with God,” or “may the Lord be with you.”
When a certain employee from a Kerrville business called to change my husband’s appointment due to the death of a friend, and her plan to attend the funeral, my husband, who is kind to the core, was sympathetic and warm in giving her his condolences and understanding. Toward the end of the conversation, he said “Vaya con dios,” to her, followed up with “Go with God.” Her response not only hurt him, it made us both angry.
My husband is married to a Hispanic woman. Well, half Hispanic, in truth. However, if the President of the United States, who is half-black can be considered a black man, I can certainly call myself Hispanic, and unlike many who are considered Hispanic, I speak Spanish fluently.
Unlike immigrants who come to the United States for better job opportunities, my mother, as a young woman with a teaching certificate from what is now called Oklahoma State University, did the opposite. She went to Havana, Cuba.
The year was 1938. The United States was experiencing the Great Depression, with the highest unemployment rate in its history, but Cuba was not as poorly off. Thousands of Americans were moving to Cuba for better living conditions and job opportunities. When offered a position working as a nanny for a British family in Havana, she jumped at the opportunity.
Eventually, she took another job as a teaching in a German school in Havana. Her life became quite glamorous. On a finca (a Cuban horse ranch), she met my father, a polo player, and the co-owner of a well respected bank and insurance company, the Godoy Sayan Bank, and the Godoy Sayan Insurance company. They were married in 1940, and she learned and speak Spanish fluently.
After the communist takeover in Cuba confiscated my father’s home and business, our vacation home in a little mining town in Colorado, near where my grandfather once had mining claims, became our permanent residence. Nevertheless, my mother was hoping that we would one day return to Cuba and made sure that we spoke Spanish only at home.
A Cuban woman named Ernestina, had come along with us, as our nanny and housekeeper. Little did she know that she would never see her homeland or family again. She had great difficultly learning English, and being both Hispanic and black wasn’t easy for her, but she still managed to always have a job and eventually bought and paid for five homes, three of which she rented out for extra income. Our relationship spanned fifty years and in my daily phone conversations with her, I was able to keep up my Spanish. She is the adult heroine character in my novel of Cuba, The Peerless Dulcinea. Through the years, many people in Colorado were kind to her, however, she did occasionally experience racial and ethnic prejudice.
And that brings me to what happened in Kerrville, Texas. Kerrville is located about fifty miles northwest of San Antonio, home of the Alamo, and home to many native Hispanic people whose ancestry dates back to the time of the first flag over Texas, that of Spain.
The first European language spoken in Texas was not English, and not French. It was Spanish. There are towns in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado that still have the Spanish names given to them by those who first founded and settled them.
When my husband, as a gesture of kindness, told the Kerrville employee “vaya con Dios,” she responded with “This is America, we speak English here.” He then said: “My wife is half Okie and half Cuban. I like ‘Espanol’ and would like to use more of it.” Nevertheless, the damage was done. She had revealed herself as a bigoted, prejudiced person.
Unfortunately, her response was not created in a vacuum. Surely, she was influenced by hateful, bigoted political talk heard repeatedly on conservative talk radio.
My spouse and I are both liberty loving Americans, and all of my books espouse libertarian, anti-socialist ideas, and traditional family values, but this is an ugly truth among those who call themselves both Christian and conservative. What a terrible shame.
I have experienced bigotry because of my being half Hispanic my entire life, so, for me, comments like this fall like water off a duck’s back. I’m used to it. However, it did not sit well with my husband. He plans to cancel his appointment with the Kerrville business, where this bigoted woman works, and has been a longtime employee. I will not say what the business sells, but their products run into the thousands, and my husband was ready to spend money with them. Not now.
To be fair, on the other hand, because as I have gotten older, I have also experienced racial bigotry from Hispanics, and nothing gives me a kick more than to tell a person of Hispanic descent off in Spanish when they have treated me, or my spouse with insolence because of who they perceived we were: non-Spanish speaking white people. This happened several times while living in Houston, where Hispanic grocery clerks were rude to us, for instance, right after showing respect and kindness to a Hispanic person in front of us.
As for racism in pre-Castro Cuba, I can say it wasn’t as obvious as it is here in the United States. One indicator that can’t be denied is the language differential between a dominant racial group and a racial group that is ostracized and deliberately segregated from the dominant group. Ebonics is a product of segregation where people develop their own distinctive accents and vocabulary. Black people in Cuba may have experienced racial prejudice before the revolution, but even back then, there was no such thing as Cuban Ebonics. That the communists in Cuba equalized racial groups more than they were already mixing before, is a myth. Before communism, there were black owned newspapers in Cuba, and mixed marriages were accepted and common. My own uncle married a woman who was part black, part Hispanic and part Swedish, which makes my only Cuban cousins, mixed race.