I promised God, as you recall, after I got a second chance to be alive, that I would write the things I most feared to write. This essay is in that category.
We are in a time — a manufactured time, I would argue - in which it has become taboo to talk about, let alone explore, ethnic, religious, racial or national heritages. This is a change from the recent past.
When I was growing up in deeply multicultural, multi-ethnic California and attending a richly integrated public school system, the legacies left to us of the impact of Native American tribes, of Mexico and its long history of colonizing, and then of Mexican-Americans leading and influencing, our state; the histories of waves of Chinese, Jewish, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipino and African-American immigrants, all of whom shaped California's economy, literature, music, schools, and other institutions; were studied formally from K through 12 and into college, and these legacies and histories often were celebrated.
We celebrated Chinese New Year; we learned about the Mexican Day of the Dead; we read testimonies from the founders of the Missions, and records of the enslavement of the Indians by the Spanish. We learned about the Ohlones and the Coast Miwoks, who settled San Francisco Bay. We read the letters of Jewish tradesmen who came to California in the Gold Rush, and we learned about escaped African-American men and women, formerly enslaved, who made their way to California then too, to establish new lives and communities. We saw photographs of the conditions of the Chinese immigrants who had come as indentured workers to build the railroads, facing great danger. We learned about the Japanese and Portuguese fishermen's communities along the coastline, and about the internment camps in World War Two. We learned the tragic story of Ishi, the last of his tribe, the Yahi Indians.