Lyn and Thang were of Vietnamese extraction. The former being a girl and the latter a boy was classmates of mine also. Both were of consanguineous relation. When the bell rang signalizing the discontinuance of that day in school, I walked with Lyn and Thang to their residential apartment, which was located not too far from where Elizabeth stayed. I could get to my friends place from two different directions. Walking down Coldwater Canyon Av to Vose I made a right, and going down this street I reached alcove where I turned left, and continuing further up I came to Barbra Ann Street. I went through an enclosed alleyway before coming to my classmates’ neighborhood. Sometimes when walking back to the Coldwater Apartment building I would go down Barbra Ann to Alcove then Goodland. I passed Elizabeth’s house before I finally turned down Basset onto Coldwater Canyon Av. Either way I walked or returned I had to cross the alleyway to go to Lyn and Thang’s apartment; or mine. When my friends and I passed through the narrow passageway there were chain locked fences on each side. Behind these concrete walls stood with graffiti sprawled across them. This is quite common in California as other States. Gang members claiming their turf or insulting those who are rivals could be seen on walls, but especially in alleyways like the one Lyn, Thang, and I walked through.
Emerging from the other end of the passageway there off to the side was a maple tree. Its leaves bedazzled me. There sugar brown foliage with a blend of yellow and red seemed to reflect a spectrum of other colors as they fluttered under the sunshine. When a leaf fell it appeared like felicitous tears for a blissful season. The scepter of autumn did show its regalia of exquisite, priceless gems of earth’s treasure. Stepping forth from the alley I could hear the rustling of leaves. Lyn, Thang, and I were in the vicinity where they lived. We had come on a street that curved. Aside of it two story unit apartments became apparent. As the street straightened more apartments and houses were situated as those before them. They all ran in correspondence to the whole street. Upon making it to Lyn and Thang’s place, the two would go inside to put their books away, and then come back outside and dabble with me in a game of blackjacks. We did not play long because about an hour later their parents called them inside. They had apprised me of the Vietnamese tradition. They were to pay homage to their deity, Buddha. Buddhism is much a part of the Asian culture per se. This is especially true of those Eastern and Central regions.
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was a spiritual guru somewhere during the first and second century. His birth is uncertain. His death is even more of a mystery, though some speculate he might have died between 486 to 483 BCE. Some have even theorized he probably expired in 411 to 400 BCE. Whatever the time of his demise he did exist, and the religion of Buddhism was founded on his teachings. The word Buddha means awakened or enlightened one. This was the import of what he taught. There is an account given of how at the age 29 as a prince Siddhartha departed from his palace to go meet his subjects. His father sought to hide from him the sick, aged, diseased, and dead. However he met an old man suffering. Siddhartha charioteer, Channa explained to him all grow old. Henceforth, the Prince decided to travel more beyond the palace walls. As he did the royal son encountered a diseased man, decaying corpse, and an ascetic. This depressed him, and so Siddhartha made the decision to live the life of an ascetic. He desired to prevent aging. He relinquished all material possessions, and transverse the country teaching his message.
Lyn and Thang’s parents paid homage to their god devoutly. Daily they worshiped what was considered their immortalized teacher. My conjecture is that they meditated before a representation of the god Buddha as they hummed or chanted. I am not sure of how the ritual was done however. My relationship with my schoolmates did not last long, and had an end similar to Elizabeth’s, except religion would correlate with the separation. It happened on that usual walk to my friends’ apartment. It was Thang and on foot talking as we headed in the direction of his dwelling place. Lyn had not been present. If I recall correctly she remained home because of a cold. On the way there I began to ask Thang about his religion. He told me what he understood it to be, or rather what his body of beliefs were, as a central point of the Vietnamese custom. In returned I shared with him my religious values. My mother a practicing Christian had early in the lives of my brothers and I instill biblical principles. She would tell us of those holy men of antiquity. The most dominant subject Wallace, Marcus and I heard was the children of Israel. My mother often recited this story to us because she said my brothers and I were so out of control she deemed us similar to those who disobeyed God. My mind was most impressionable at this time. I retained much. I repeated to Thang what I learned. He had questions about my beliefs as well. When he and I reached his familiar abode, he went inside, and stayed there for a while. When he finally did come out, he relayed to me his parents’ message. They simply did not want me to return to their apartment. As the predicament with Elizabeth and I was not understood the circumstance with Lyn and Thang’s parents was even less apprehended. When I matured I could rationalize that my schoolmates’ parents did not want me to diffuse my religious beliefs. The Vietnamese during the 80’s most likely judged Christianity as corrupt western views. If so, this attitude would stem back to the Vietnamese War.
I have read that those who hold sacred office in the Catholic organization attempted to convert the native Vietnamese to Catholicism. The North Vietnamese and their allies refused. Sometime later war was initiated by the United States of America. Many in our country considered it an aimless conflict. It was never really comprehended why the war in the first place. Few hold the belief that the Vietnamese war had been instigated by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Whether it is true or not what is interesting is that the Vietnamese War was also named Spelly’s War. Cardinal Spellman was evidently a holder of holy office. He went on numerous occasions to the warfront to encourage the soldiers. The commander of the American forces was General Westmoreland, himself a Roman Catholic. Although there is no evidence of Cardinal Spellman’s motives or agenda, it is a noteworthy fact that he oversaw the war in conjunction with Westmoreland. I did not see Lyn or Thang ever again, but I still walked to their neighborhood. I associated myself with other kids from The Coldwater Canyon Elementary school. There was Maria, Carol, Marcos, and many others.
Since the vicinity had a large part of Hispanics, I found myself in company with that group the most. It was here I attended my first Mexican party. A young Hispanic woman arranged a birthday party for her daughter. Children who lived near the girl came to this special occasion. The Party was held above from where Lyn and Thang’s stayed. They did not come as one could only know the reason why. There was lots of food, entertainment, and kids. I played, ate, and it seemed like one endless round of fun. I did not think it would ever stop. Towards the end of the party a donkey of papier-mâché was suspended in the air, or what is known as a piñata. Within it were fruits, candies, and gifts of Latin concoction. The birthday girl was the first blind-folded, a stick or baseball bat placed in her hand; she swung until she hit the piñata. It spent around in an axis and oscillated until she made contact a second time. If she could not breach the material fabricated donkey, other kids tried it. At last, after constant impact the piñata split, and what was inside had come to be extricated. The day began to wane as the children lessen. They slowly disappeared inside their places. The sun blazed, its form appeared like a circular mirage of pure heat. It seemed to peer through the domain of its chambers; like the penetrating gaze of God. When it disappeared beneath the horizon, a soft blue color draped the twilight sky, until it passed into the dark night. The last few kids withdrew into their apartments. All was silent.
I had come to this neighborhood many of days. I watched more than a thousand sunsets from this place I frequented. It was late in the night for child such as me when I began to walk home. At around 8:00p.m. I made my way through the alleyway. This was dangerous looking back in hindsight. I could have been abducted, raped, or killed. It had taken me about thirty-minutes to reach the Coldwater Canyon Apartment Building. My mother never liked when I came home passed 6:00p.m., and she could not find me because she didn’t know of my whereabouts. She feared for my safety. Although she scolded me, I disregarded her reproofs. It was at this point in my life that I begin to rebel. I had always felt like something missing in my life. My vexed soul could not articulate the vicissitudes of harsh reality. When I went around other children I yearned for the happiness they had; though I enjoyed my childhood to a large degree, inside there was a distant desire to have that family belonging. I observed Mexican families as they were constantly surrounded by family members. They all had smiles on their faces from having a sense of acceptance, and I wanted this. I can truly say it was my first thought of intrigue with the Latin culture.
My mother never neglected or showed any lack of solicitude towards me so as to give rise to such feelings in myself. I could not interpret my emotions, yet they harassed me. I somehow had the impression I was out of place. I consistently felt an insatiable longing to be received by others. Maybe not having my biological father had to do with this unwanted disturbance. Yet it could have been a foreboding of some future event. My life today might have been that presentiment I once retained as a child. Through the years it would all unfold.
It was a silent clear dawn. In the distance a shimmering star against the backdrop of shadow and light could be seen. Venus rising beyond, the harbinger of coming daylight, shinned as translucent crystal. At last the sight of a still morning broke in, and dispersed the remnant of darkness. The sidewalks and streets were once again busy with children and vehicles. Kids hurried along to school. Car horns blared from impatient drivers trying to accelerate slow moving traffic. I had been awake prior to sunrise. Wallace was still asleep. I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I then dressed in a nice pair of blue jeans, maroon shirt, and a white pair of tennis shoes. By 7:00a.m. I left for school. My brother Wallace followed a little later. I waited for an hour outside the gates bubbling with excitement. It was the time in my childhood that I developed a crush for a particular girl. I can think back to this instance during my young life. I thought myself to be in love. Her name was Elizabeth, a classmate of mine. Of Asian origins, namely Chinese I liked her very much.
Elizabeth and I played, or talked to each other daily at recess. On some days when it rained, students would stay inside the classrooms. Teachers allowed the kids to involve themselves in such games as Battleship, Connect Four, and Checkers. I always looked forward to rainy days because Elizabeth and I talked over one of these games played. When school ended for the day, I usually walked Elizabeth home. I carried her books, and many adults thought this was cute. Her mother especially liked me. She too viewed this as two children that had an innocent like for each other. Elizabeth lived in a modest brick home which had a brown fence before the entrance of the driveway. She often invited me in to play. She was unsupervised for a short period of time. Her mother worked during the day, and did not get home until an hour later. Elizabeth’s mother however, prepared her daughter as to what should be done while she was away. Cook for her sister, clean the house, wash the dishes etc. Soon Elizabeth’s mother pulled into the driveway. She made it home at around 4:00p.m., mostly, though sometimes she made there earlier. In the beginning she consented to Elizabeth and me playing together. She didn’t seem to mind, but eventually she started to have a cool reserve towards me. One example of this was after school I came inside Elizabeth’s house. We both sat down to watch Television. She sat on the couch and I on the floor. Her mother suddenly called her daughter away. Elizabeth stayed gone for hours before she returned to tell me she had much to do, and that I had to leave. A few days later I was told by my best friend I could not come inside her house anymore. However, the both of us continued to play in her front yard. Yet, Elizabeth’s mother beckoned her to come inside, and again she remained away for hours. I finally left without being told.
On one early balmy evening, while the sun still lingered in the sky, I ran from the Coldwater Canyon Apartment Building to Elizabeth’s house. For some unexplainable reason I had a wild urge to take my shirt off as I made it around Basset Street down to Goodland where my classmate stayed. I thought I would impress her in this way. My impulsive behavior might have seen sexually motivated, but this was not the case. I never even heard of the word at this time, nor could define its meaning. I just wanted to convey to Elizabeth what I couldn’t by verbal communication, that I liked her. I desired her to be impressed with my physique. Elizabeth was in her front yard jump roping in her driveway, when I ran up to the fence. Her reaction was one of curiosity. She asked why I didn’t have a shirt on. The question and wonder on her face I must admit embarrassed me. Boys can do such silly things to gain the attention of girls. Elizabeth’s mother observing, quickly called her daughter inside. When she came back outside she relayed to me her mother’s message. “You cannot come to my house ever again”, she said. The reason being as her mother stated, “Because I was black”. I could not fathom or better yet define what this meant at my age. Although I felt a sense of rejection, I walked away attempting to find shape to this bitter experience.
It was my first encounter with what is termed prejudice. It would be much later that I could comprehend or at least speculate with near certainty the vexing situation. Elizabeth’s mother initial acceptance of me had to do with my appearance. Though African American, she did not detect this due to the fact my biological background was of mixed ancestry. In all actuality I looked more like someone from an eastern culture. Elizabeth’s mother must have queried her daughter as my nationality. When she discovered I was black, she became appalled. Henceforth she disliked me. I cannot say that I blame her for her immediate response when she watched me talking to Elizabeth without a shirt on. Still she probably had that same kind of reasoning some whites retained that blacks are animals, and have illegitimate children as a result of their immoral behavior. In essence they are all sexual deviants. Elizabeth’s mother did not want her to mingle with me at all. Though she expressed a passive prejudice there was that racism which could be aggressive. This would not be the last time coming in contact with bigotry. My bother Marcus and I would experience it a year later. The same prejudice manifested itself in a varied behavior.
I saw Elizabeth the next day sitting on the school benches by herself. It was in the afternoon following the dismissal of students from class. She sat in the lunch area, seemingly alone, silent. We had not talked much earlier during the day. I approached her to find out if we could play. When I came upon her I said, “Hi”. She immediately told me her mother would not allow us to interact none whatsoever.” I could not even be around her at school. Upon hearing this, I walked away saddened at the racial demarcation put between her and me. As I turned my head to look at Elizabeth for the last time, there on her face seem to rest a cloud of confusion. I can only assume she either did not understand her mother’s predisposition to judge another by their racial origins, or she felt as I did, that she didn’t want to lose her best friend. Anyhow Elizabeth and I cease all social actions together. When I succeeded to the third grade, she had become a faint memory. I never saw her anymore.
Summer eclipsed as a bird in swift flight at the inception of an opalescent autumn day. It reflected an immortal splendor. The leaves fell softly from the trees, slowly descending as the sun rays bathed them in panoply of light. On the ground they appeared vibrant, fluttering from a light inflow of wind. The aromatic scent of gardenias permeated the air, and birds chirped skillfully their morning symphony. The bustling of children and traffic bestirred the streets. The elementary kids could be seen walking on the sidewalks in groups. They were from various ethnicities, nationalities, and races, though a large portion was Hispanic. Wallace and I walked alongside my mother. She would have to take us to the school office to get my brother and I registered. At Coldwater Canyon Av, and Basset intersection crosswalk we stopped to await the crosswalk guard. Usually a female, although a male worked the morning shift sometimes, the city employed worker held a stop paddle in hand, raising it to halt the rush morning traffic whenever pedestrians crossed the street. My mother, brother, and I scurried across, thereby reaching the school premises.
Walking into the office, my mother spoke to the academic counselors. Thereafter, Wallace and I began our first day at Coldwater Canyon School. The institution opened its gates for the children at 8:00a.m. Ordinarily, my brother and I made it to the school prior to this time. We stood outside with the other kids. Classes started around 8:30a.m., and children remained inside until 10:00a.m. At this hour children were released for recess. It lasted for fifteen minutes before students returned to the classrooms. Teachers would lead children outside to the school playground, and allow them to interact with another. Games such as Duck Duck Goose, Catch Ball, Handball, and swinging on Apparatus Rings were frequently engaged in by children. The instructors supervised the kids as they socialized, and participated in those recreational activities. By the end of recess the elementary students were required to go back to class. Teachers rang a portable bell for children to form two separate lines, each class group. Once this was done the kids followed their individual teacher back inside. Academic practice exercises were handed out to students. The elementary kids resumed study from a couple of hours earlier. When noon had come children were dismissed for lunch. They all gathered by the benches outside not too far from the classrooms. After lunch the children involved themselves in more outside recreation. When 1:00p.m. came around a teacher summoned all students to line up with the ring of a hand bell. The same procedure was followed as all went back within class. Teachers would then read students a story from a children’s book. One hour later a second recess was permitted. Upon it ending the kids entered the classroom for the last time of the day.
Teachers continued to drill children in some arithmetic or reading practices. As 3:00p.m. arrived instructors let students out of class the rest of the afternoon. Homework was assigned to the school children. The hours in the classroom terminated as students left with only play time on their minds. A flurry of kids poured out of the front gates. It was not infrequent children were seen going to a friend’s house. Most kids lived in close proximity. Some however, did not stay close to each other. Although parents of both groups gave permission or refusal to let their children to go someone’s house or apartment, it wasn’t with extreme caution for the former. The latter had to exercise more prudence when allowing their kids to leave from under their supervision. Wallace and I went to classmates’ residence, or they came to our living space. We either watched Television or played around The Coldwater Canyon Apartment Building. Marcus made merry with us as well.
Of the many classmates’ Wallace and I associated with the most, and even my youngest brother was Menelik. My brothers and I enjoyed being in his company. He had a funny sense of humor, a hilarity that caused my siblings and me to burst into laughter. There was one instance in which school concluded for the day. Menelik, Wallace and I were leaving through the gates. We couldn’t seem to make progress egressing. Crowds of kids were going through the portals, but at a very slow pace. Menelik turned to Wallace and me with a sly grin, and said, “Let me show you how to do this”. He began pushing through, “awww…awww”, he released from his lips, “Get out the way”. He laughed wildly. Menelik showed much of this ebullient emotion. It laughed so much my mother labeled him the “The Laughing Hyena”. Almost every day after school he walked with Wallace and me to our apartment. There he, my brothers and I ran around the building. Although our friend seemed to be a lively child he concealed a secret. My brothers and I was not aware of his domestic issues, at least initially. We failed to realize his personal problems at home, that is until my brothers and me found out Menelik never went home, or rarely did he ever when he left our apartment. Wallace, Marcus and I discovered something wrong when we observed him going to the apartment building next to us, where he slept on a couch that had been disposed of by the trash can. Naturally, inquisitive as children my siblings and I asked Menelik why he chose not to go home. He did not say only that he didn’t want to.
On one evening our mother called for my brothers and me to come inside. We had been outside as twilight appeared. Before going in, my brothers and I were suddenly approached by Menelik. He was shaking, and just fled from his house. He asked if he could stay with us. He finally intimated to my brothers and I his mother physically abused him. Wallace, Marcus and I communicated this to our mother. When she looked upon Menelik she instantly knew he wasn’t lying. His trembling and the distress in his eyes said it all. My mother did not deny him a refuge in our living space, though it was at a great risk. She welcomed him in, yet he did not even spend a full night when someone knocked on the front door repetitively. I have this memory of my brothers and me trying to hide our friend under the bed. We thought it was his mother, and we were right. However, she was not alone. Two Police Officers escorted her. My mother made an effort to protect the Menelik by lying, but as the officers explained to her the penalty for this, incident to the abduction of someone’s child, she told them he was in her apartment. He was brought from our bedroom.
Menelik’s mother questioned him as to why he ran away from home. Though she inquired gently, and expressed no passion on the surface, beneath there seemed to be a restrained rage waiting to erupt. I was fully persuaded when she should take her son back home, he would feel that anger, to what degree? I can only guess. The day following justified what I thought the previous night. As my mother, brothers, and I were walking pass Coldwater Canyon School on a weekend, we saw Menelik and his mother. She was parked in front of the facility. Her son stood before the vehicle, refusing to get inside. She scolded him to seat himself in the car, but he put up a resistance. Finally she struck her son across his face, and propelled him in the vehicle. My mother could only watch. She had her own children to protect. Anyhow, she probably didn’t know at the time a person could report a case of abuse. Menelik was in the vehicle as his mother drove off. Wallace, Marcus and I never saw our friend again. He stopped coming to school. I am positive his mother moved to another vicinity where she continued her mistreatment of him. His was a face at the bottom of the well, yearning for someone to hear his sad story; such are many with the internal screams that few could hear, in a case of abuse.
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