As Interviewed by Maya Kini, March 13, 2019

G.T.: In Her Own Words

This is Maya Kini interviewing G.T. over Civil Rights.

I was lucky enough to be born in Kerrville, Texas, December 1955. As a child I did not realize what a wonderful era to be born in. I got to experience the innocence of playing hide and seek from dusk to dawn without any fear of someone hurting me. Sitting on my Daddy's car with my girlfriends talking about boys until midnight. Going trick or treating until way after dark without our parents fearing someone has kidnapped us. It was a time of innocence and equality in a child's eye. Until the school system decided it was time to integrate.

Good and bad came from this decision: The good was at least we will be able to have the latest textbooks rather than getting used books that the white schools no longer wanted. Good that we no longer have to bring our lunch to school -- we can now have cafeteria food. Good that I would make some new friends rather than the kids I grew up with. Well at least that's what I thought.

It turned out that making new friends would be more challenging than I thought. It was 1963. I was in the 5th grade about to turn 10 and was totally innocent and unprepared for the bigotry and hate that was so dominant in my new hostile environment. I realized I was not welcomed at a place that was supposed to be my safe haven -- where hopes and dreams are supposed to be cultivated. Instead I was looked at as if I was an intruder; as if I was something less than human. It was this year that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and I would watch my parents glued to the TV with fear and sadness -- and not knowing how his death would affect us and how stressful returning back to a school on a daily basis is going to be. The tension went on for a few months but as time went on it became more tolerable. I actually made some friends.

I remember one particular white girl, her name was Claudia, that became my best friend. At recess we would always play together. At first she did not want to hold my hand when we played ring around the roses. It wasn't long after that she did not want to let my hands go. For whatever reason, her family ended up moving away. I remember us crying on the playground her last day not wanting to let each other go. Looking back, I wonder did her family leave because of me. I guess that's something I will never know. It wasn't long before tragedy struck again, Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968. I was thirteen in the 8th grade. Once again I saw my parents with more intensity looking at the TV. With the same fear and sadness that I witnessed when JFK was assassinated. By me being older I remember my fear was intensified as well and just could not understand why there was so much hatred going on.

Fast forwarding to high school. I met an exchange student from Italy. Her name was Christina-she was a white girl. She had a beautiful spirit that was fresh and inviting. Something that I've never experienced before living in America. She embraced all cultures, races, differences, and wondered why we all separate from each other outside of class and in the cafeteria. She would spend time with the Hispanics, the Whites, but at the end of the day she ended up with us -- the Blacks. I asked her why she would always come back to us at the end of the day and she said she did not like the way the other groups talked about us. I felt like I had my own little spy. I would ask: What do they say? And she hesitated, because she didn’t want to hurt me, but later said they talk about our hair, our skin color, our appearances, and other mean things, and she didn't like it. Basically she reaffirmed what we already knew.

Too soon was time for Christina to return to Italy. She later told me that she didn't want to leave me here. I asked, “Where?” She said: “Here, in this mean country”. I asked her to explain. She later said “I wish you could come back to Italy with me.” So I could experience what it is like to be treated for the content of your character and not your skin color. I tied that statement in on what JFK and MLK has been telling us all along and wondered why this is so difficult in America. But what scared me most of all was that it took an exchange student to tell me that I deserve better. This life I was living was the norm for me, and I've become accustomed to it -- to the point that I was numb to the ignorance that we endure on a daily basis. That was my wake-up call-the year of 1970. Although, there were more battles to be fought, I still remember this day-and I still remember Christina. I would love to see Christina again and find out whether life has been kind to her. As for me, it's been bittersweet -- the struggle is more subtle but the fight for equality still remains.

Yet in spite of all I've gone through and still go through, if I had a choice of colors, I still choose to be Black. God Bless America -- we need it more than ever.