Friday, December 23, 2005

The Unknown

Everyone knew, except me. I was always in the dark about everything. Maybe I just chose to ignore what was right under my nose. Being a teenager living home, my friends would come over with such enthusiasm. I remember one particular day when my two close friends came over. Steve and Corrine were sitting out in the living room, while my father had his workers in a nearby room talking about work. My father was always in the construction and excavating business. In fact, he held two jobs. He owned a fish market at the South Street Seaport, as well as the excavating business.

All my father’s workers would gather around a table over demitasse coffee and talk for hours. Funny how they all were so dressed up, as if they were attending a ‘family function’ or a party. They all had dress shirts, jewelry from head to toe, and all smelled like strong pungent cologne. If I were to guess what occupation they were in, I’d say ‘car salesmen’. I guess I was clueless.

“Deb! You gotta listen to this! Don’t you know what they’re talking about?” Corrine said, with this frisson of excitement in her voice.
“Huh? What do you care—it’s excavating crap.”
“No Deb, listen. It’s not excavation they’re talking about.”
Steve said, in this low whispery-type way; as if one of the workers were going to overhear him.

As an ‘in the closet’ lesbian, yes I did date boys back then. They didn’t last very long, because I always chose my gal friends to hang out with instead. For some reason, I always dated Latinos. I was just more attracted to them. My father, being an old school Italian from Brooklyn, I was forbidden to see anyone of a different background—God forbid they were black. And yes, I did go against my father’s wishes. My parents had quite a time trying to ward off people of different cultures walking through the front door. Ironically enough, it’s amazing how their daughter ends up dating a girl, and on top of that, a Puerto Rican too.

I’ll never forget the day I brought home my boyfriend Raul. He was Puerto Rican. He was gorgeous—quite a head turner. He came inside my house, and introduced himself like a gentleman to my mother. He was all dressed up, because we were holding a function at the house. My father wasn’t home yet.

“How dare you bring this guy into our home!” My mother says, as she whisks me aside to talk to me in private.
“What? What’s wrong with him?”
“You know…You’re fatha’ is going to be fuming over this!”
“Ma, he’s a clean cut guy and comes from a very respectable family.”
I…don’t…care. Get him out of this house now.”
She said, talking through her teeth at this point.
“Oh and that’s not going to look obvious? Maybe if you stop being so damn prejudice, you wouldn’t have so much anger.”
“He has a beeper. He must be a drug dealer.”
My mother suggests.
“Oh yeah, that’s it mom.” I said, as I walked out of the room to join Raul and the rest of my family & friends.

Needless to say, the relationship ended due to avoiding the fact that he couldn’t just drop by anymore. He knew what it was all about. He wasn’t a stupid kid. I felt bad. I always felt bad when I had to turn away a friend of a different culture. It hurt me. It must have hurt them as well.

I remember one Friday evening after school, I invited a few friends from the neighborhood over. We would all hang out, play kickball and then head inside to play video games or watch TV. My friend Joey asked if he could bring his cousin Tom over. I didn’t mind. His cousin was staying for the weekend and Joey felt bad leaving him at his house all alone. Joey was Italian, and my parents liked him. When they came over, to my surprise, Joey’s cousin was black. It was his cousin through marriage. When I walked inside to get some drinks for my friends, my mother was standing right near the window watching them.

“Who is that Debbie?”
“Ma, it’s Joey’s cousin—through marriage.”
I explained.
“That’s not his cousin. Is this your new boyfriend?”
“Ma—no, his cousin is staying with him for the weekend, so he asked if it was okay if he brought him.”
“Well it’s not. Get him out of here.”

Embarrassingly enough, I had to call the little gathering off. I was so angry at my mother, that I actually explained to Joey why she was making me do this. I didn’t care at that point. They all left to go to Joey’s house instead. I hopped on my four-wheeler motorcycle and headed there as well. I ended up liking Tom very much. In fact, we ended up dating. Of course my mother heard wind of this, and I was forbidden to see him.

At the age of sixteen, I witnessed my parents being taken away by the FBI. They were indicted for money laundering of a nearby garbage company. My father had to go away for six months at a federal prison in Allendale, PA. My mother was released. This was all a surprise. I was always in the dark. I gained knowledge of my father’s background as well as my mother’s. They weren’t perfect.

My father told me stories of his stay at the federal prison. We always went up to visit him. It was more like a country club than anything else. Golf course, good food, and of course old friends he hadn’t seen in a while. My father, ironically enough roomed with a black man, who coincidently was dating a transsexual in a nearby cell. He was forced to live with other people of different cultures and much different lifestyles. I think it was a blessing in disguise.

Today, my parents have a new respect for people of different backgrounds. In fact, they consider their lifestyle to be very similar to those of Puerto Rican descent and other nationalities, due to large close-knit families and values. They also accept me 100%. They love my girlfriend who happens to be a lesbian—and Puerto Rican. They consider her family now.

Right there, you can see that people are afraid of the ‘unknown.’ It wasn’t that they didn’t ‘like’ these people before---it was because they didn’t give them a chance. They were both brought up by parents who also held the same mindset. When you only go by outward appearances and stereotypes, you force yourself in a world which only you create. It’s called ignorance.