You may have heard about music professor Dr. Douglas Tejada’s decision to leave TSU and our community due to the fear that Stephenville racism has induced in him for the safety of his wife and children.
Incidents of exclusion and hostility toward his Columbian/Spanish family have included such references as “stupid Mexican people” and “dumb, illegal Mexicans.”
When I read this on the Texan News Service, my thoughts went to an incident in Walmart’s parking lot several years ago when I ran into an old friend with whom I had worked in a local human service agency, her shopping done.
My friend, a racial minority, and I leaned against cars and caught up about vacations, mundane events, and family, she never failing to ask about my mom.
After we hugged goodbye, I turned to go into Walmart and saw just a car away a young woman I did not know, also a minority, who clearly had been waiting for the end of our conversation, she nodding slightly and glancing into my eyes before she, too, turned to enter the store, my friend leaving in her car.
That glance said it all: she had my friend’s back. This young woman didn’t know me, didn’t know my relationship with our mutual friend; but what I instantly realized was that she knew all too well the bigoted emotional assaults that are a part of the way it is in Stephenville, as Dr. Tejada so poignantly reported.
I am still flooded with terrible sadness to realize the crushing diminishment of that – and this toward a woman whom I knew as the salt of the earth. So many times I saw the sacrifices she made for our phenomenally compromised clients. I especially remember the tears she shed for one particularly hard-to-love client, she crying about not being able to impact his misery and his dying alone. Who could know the heart of this woman, what she gave and what she had to defend against?
I am not writing this under the illusion that bigoted assaulters will care and change. If they were to read this at all, they could not let it in. I instead am writing for those of us who can acknowledge the long-term prejudice we experience in our rural county and our opportunity to act overtly for our fellow strugglers. It is up to us to have their backs.