MY STORY-GROWING UP PUERTO RICAN
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico until the age of 13 when my Parents (Dad a prominent CPA, Mami a housewife with 7 children, I being the eldest) decided it would be a better life for their children if they moved to SPOTSWOOD, NJ. Just the name alone gives it away….a Spot in the Woods…a tiny town with no sidewalks, a general store oh and NO Blacks, Latinos or any one of Brown skin EVER lived in Spotswood.
There started what I called the “hell of my life”…the looks, the making fun of my accent, the bullying, the sly remarks about who let the “Spiks” into our town…it went on and on. I had never heard the word “Spik” and had no way to relate as we had never lived in NY…we came directly from Puerto Rico.
My parents in there way tried to protect us, but could not share with us all of how to deal with the negative events due to our ages…I was the oldest and only 13!
I endured beatings, bullying, pulling of my long hair, being pushed in a lake, being followed or waited for after school to be tormented and trying to protect my other siblings from this awful experience…but the two events that I will remember for as long as I live was the day Ronny L. spit on me as I was walking to school and the day my history teacher, Mr. Orlick made fun of me in front of the entire class because I had pronounced “colonel” (just the way it’s spelled), but is pronounced “kurnel”…(still amazes me).
When the entire class AND the teacher started to laugh, my 13yr old brain could not comprehend why? And so I started to wilt and wanted to die on the spot. I, in my broken English told them it was crazy to think the world colonel could be pronounced KURNEL as I did not see those letters; I spit on the book and threw it to the teacher. Well…I was suspended!
I hated my Dad for placing me in that position and told him I was NOT going back to school till I got rid of the accent. Papi got me newspapers, a mirror and tape recorder. Every day for about 2 weeks I would read out loud using my mirror and would play it back…till I lost the accent.
I went back to school and throughout the years had to contend with the racist remarks until one day during an assembly I got on stage and took over the mic and told the entire school how I was no longer going to put up with me and my 6 siblings being bullied, made fun of; that I had a heart and emotions just like anyone else and it was up to them to see who/what I was about.
My Papi helped me post up signs in 3 surrounding townships. I hired a band, told the local police dept what I was doing and had about (300) kids attend. I opened up my house to them, introduced my parents, educated them on my Island…that I too was an American…just looked a little different and that I wanted to be their friend, but would not put up with the abuse. If they had questions, were curious about anything…they could always come over, ask and see for themselves. In fact I remember a Polish woman by the name of Anna who ignorantly stated “You are so clean and haven’t any cockroaches” (Ay Dios Mio) and my poor Mami could never defend herself because she didn’t speak the language.
Looooonnnnnggggg story short, I went on to High School, was elected Homecoming Queen for (DECA) an educational program, was on the Pep Club aka Cheerleader and voted “Best Dressed” and “Most Popular” in my class!! And finally graduated!
Oh and Ronny???? FORTY years later I’m standing in lobby of Waldorf Astoria/NYC, and hear my name being shouted. A tall man extends his hand out to me and says he’s sorry…I had NO idea who he was but said yes, I’m Priscilla, but I think you must be mistaken. He said he was Ronny who spit on me in 8th grade and never forgave himself…I could not believe this man had held onto that ALL those years. I gave him a warm hug, and told him I had not begrudged him, that it was not his fault his PARENTS did not teach him that there were other “color” skin besides white and that although we may look different, were more alike than not. Ronny actually cried and so did I.
I was happy for the incident for now he was a PARENT and was educating his children on how NOT to be racist and that we are all equal.