July 16, 2013

Do I Really Have to Live in a Box?

Dad, 1948
I don’t talk about this often, among people I don’t know well. This is not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed about it; rather, it’s because the topic tends to lead into strange discussions that I prefer to avoid. Ready? Here it is:

My father’s name was Loncy E. Hutson, Jr., born on September 4, 1930 in South-Central Los Angeles. He was black, with a splash of Cherokee mixed in for good measure. One of his ancestors was a slave on a plantation in West Virginia; the owner’s surname became ours. (My birth certificate calls him “Negro,” but we’d be content to be called “Colored,” or whatever. Unlike many, we don't argue over such silly things.)

My mother’s name was Dorothy Gloria Ambrosia Lueras, born May 15, 1938 in Atrisco, New Mexico. Her grandparents migrated from Mexico in the mid-19th century. She grew up in the barrios on the Eastside of Los Angeles, and attended Rosemead High School. (All of these photos are from our high school days, age 17 or 18.)
In my youth we invariably spent Christmas Eve with my mother’s family. The typical holiday fixin's were supplemented by tamales, tacos, and a big steaming pot of Aunt Bea’s menudo. Christmas day we walked down the street to Nana’s (Dad’s family), where she served up grits, greens, and gumbo alongside the bacon and eggs. For most people this melange might seem odd; but for my sister and I, it was absolutely normal; we knew no other way.

My parents’ best friends were the Marshalls, the Egardos, and the Mendelsons; that is, a black
Mom, 1956
couple, a Japanese couple, and a Jewish couple.The Egardos introduced us to sukiyaki, and the Mendelsons to smoked salmon; at the Marshalls, we sang along with James Brown: "Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud!" My school friends, from kindergarten to high school, hailed from every corner of the globe. Almost always, we all got along just fine; interracial hostilities were very rare.
So why don’t I talk about it?

It’s because of the strange reactions: They don’t believe me. Or they expect me to hold politically correct views on immigration, or affirmative action, or school busing, or welfare reform (and I often disappoint). And how can I possibly take sides in the battle between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin? Or, how can I embrace one part of your heritage without denying the other? Shouldn’t I feel conflicted?

I've had my black friends tell me I'm not "black" enough, because I don't speak like I'm straight out da 'hood. My Latino friends tell me I'm not "Latino" enough, because I don't speak Spanish fluently. (I've never known many Cherokees.) Why is it better for "my own people" to tell me what to do, or how to act, or who to date, than for an outsider to tell me the same? Is this intramural pressure any better than racism? Someone tell me, please. I can't tell.


Here’s how I see it: I’m not trying to be pigeonholed as the Black/Cherokee/Chicano/whatever guy. I’m not trying to prove anything, for one cause or the other. It’s not my job to lobby Congress for more this or less that, on behalf of one constituency or another. Don’t look to me to act a certain way, or to favor certain clothes or food or music. That’s an awful burden to hang on a child.
So, am I "proud" to be black, or to be Mexican? I don't know; should I be? In my mind, "pride" has to do with taking satisfaction in my achievements; my marriage, my writing, my high school swimming exploits, my many career promotions. These things pushed me and challenged me, and today I'm a better person for it. Not better than any other person, mind you, but better than ME without.

Me, 1979
But if I should say "I'm proud to be (insert racial designation here)," what does that mean? Am I better than ME without? Or am I better than YOU? Does it make me more accomplished, more virtuous, more holy? Would I be a lesser person if I was born Japanese? Did I somehow, by default, make a greater contribution to the welfare of my fellowman? As far as I can tell, the answer to all of those questions is no. My ethnic-ness is a circumstance of my birth that has nothing to do with me. Likewise for you.
Hey, I have an idea: The next time one man kills another, let’s treat them as individuals instead of groups. Let’s wait for an investigation, before we jump to the most sinister motive. Or do you really believe it’s more righteous for you to hate me, than for me to hate you?

I’m just me. Like everyone else, I'm the product of my nature, my nurture, and my own freewill choices. I'm not trying to be anything, or anyone, else. Is that enough? Tell me now, before we get too invested in each other.


  1. Shoes are meant to be in a box. But, even they don't fulfill their purpose until they see the light of day.
    You keep being yourself, Steve. Enough of us will get along with you to make it worth while. This world has enough followers. What we really need is more people just being themselves.

  2. Steve - You and I will both be in a box someday (or an urn, as the case may be). The key is what we accomplish in the meantime. And while I do enjoy watching a good heavyweight box, and from time to time eat a taco at Jack in the Box, I do not expect box-like behavior from such a contrarian as yourself.

    As Will Smith said in Hancock, "You do you and I'll do me..." And I suspect we both have something big yet to do...

    Regards, Reece

  3. Steve, you are definitely enough. You have definitely grown as a writer since we attended Cec's writer's workshop. Keep up the good work.