Sunday, June 22, 2008

Journalism Class Assignment

I ran across this feature piece I wrote while at UAB and I thought I would post it. I miss Juan. I wonder where he is now.

The Color of Racism

The cool October breeze carried the scent of freshly cut grass as the gleeful sound of children’s laughter filled the air. With a look of determination in his dark brown eyes, a small boy with brown skin, swings a bat and makes contact with a ball thrown by his sister.

“We have to move soon,” the children’s father says. “The kids at school are not nice to my kids. They tell them they don’t belong here. They fight with my kids.”

It’s Birmingham, Alabama but it’s not 1963, the year is 2004 and the children being tormented at school are not African American, they are Hispanic. The boy, Juan Sanchez Jr., 8, a second grader at Glen Iris Elementary School, runs around the imaginary bases as his father, Juan Sanchez Sr. looks on.

A tall, dark-skinned girl in a pink Abercrombie shirt with fringe around the bottom, stands in a typical baseball stance at the imaginary home plate, her long hair restrained by a white pony tail holder. She swings the bat, hitting the ball and starts to run the bases as she laughs. Juan Jr. catches the ball and runs after her, tagging her at second base. Genesis, 9, is in the fourth grade at Glen Iris Elementary School.

“You’re out, Genesis,” Juan Jr. says. “I got you out.” Followed by a similar phrase, this time in Spanish.

“The black kids tell them, ‘go back to Mexico’,” the elder Sanchez says. “But we are not from Mexico, we are from Venezuela.”

The Sanchez children have been harassed at school and the administration appears to look the other way when it’s a confrontation between African American students and Latino students.

“I talked to the principal and he said he would take care of it,” Sanchez said. “But nothing is ever done, it doesn’t stop.”

Like so many immigrants in our country’s history, Juan Sanchez Sr., 28, came to Birmingham 14 months ago to seek a better life for his family after being robbed at gunpoint, twice, in Venezuela.

“They took my car, they took my clothes, they took everything,” Sanchez said. “The next time I was working, I drove a taxi, a gun was at my head and I said, ‘No more, go to America’.”

“I knew that when my kids got older they would be in the gangs,” Sanchez said. “The gangs with guns.”

Sanchez looked at his son and daughter playing ball as his youngest son Christopher who will be 3 in December, sat near his mother, Alexandria, 27, and clapped his tiny, brown hands.

“I came here to find work and when I had enough money, I was able to bring my family here,” Sanchez said. “Most people are nice to us, everyone except the school.”

“Some kids like to hit us, one hit me in the face,” Genesis said with a frown. “They don’t get in trouble.”

In a city such as Birmingham, it’s hard to believe that people continue to be persecuted by the color of their skin. Efforts to educate people with the Civil Rights Institute, the historic 16th Street Baptist Church and life-like sculptures at Kelly Ingram Park, seem to be in vain as it appears that we are destined to allow history to repeat itself.

Jane Sweeney, an employee at the Hoover Multicultural Resource Center, is familiar with the hardships that these people face.

“It’s a human condition, not a matter of education,” Sweeney said. “Throughout our history, when a new group comes in, it takes a while for acceptance from the people already here. It was the same for the Germans, Irish, Italians and then the African Americans. There is uncertainty and the fear that jobs are going to be lost even though the jobs that the Hispanic people are filling are typically jobs that have been turned down by everyone else.”

Sweeney is also aware of the discord between the African American community and the Hispanic community.

“You don’t see as much of it in Hoover simply because there are fewer African Americans here,” said Sweeny. “The teachers and the administrators and even the students here seem to want to do what they can to help these people rather than look the other way.”

Squeals of laughter erupt from Christopher as he watches his brother and sister wrestle over the baseball. Juan Sanchez Sr. stands and starts loading his lawnmower in his van telling his children not to forget their shoes.

“When Juan is taller, he wants to be a policeman,” Sanchez says, searching for the correct English words. “Genesis, wants to be a doctor.”

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

Juan Sanchez also has that dream.

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