Guest Essay– Julio A. Galindo, MPA – February 1, 2023
As I reflect on African American History Month, I wanted to share a story about my father, and one about how I later assimilated that story into adulthood, as an ‘American-Mexican.’
Although my grandfather came from Jalisco, Mexico in 1919 as a fifteen-year-old kid, ended up in Kansas, got a job with the Union Pacific Railroad, he worked in the U.S. until 1931. He returned to Jalisco, married, and started a family. As a result of that effort, my father was able to fly into Chicago (w/his ‘green card’) in the late 1950’s to work. He found employment at an area steel mill, with his two older brothers. As a 20-year-old, the first image he saw on TV when one of his two brothers turned on their Zenith was this scene (and many others who were simply seeking an education).
This seminal scene that is now seared into the consciousness of America was perplexing to my father. Why hate someone for having darker skin!? He had no idea at that time that we not only focused on skin color in the U.S., but he was also ignorant to all of those who had been enslaved in the U.S. since the early 1600’s. What did he do? No, he did not go marching in the streets. He somehow found a book on those who had been enslaved, and while learning the English language (by going to a local community college), he also learned about this important part of our U.S. history.
Thirty years later, he did have his “Little Rock” moment. In 1988, a year after my 11-year-old brother passed and my mom divorced him, he had been working at John Deere Foundry, about 3 years away from retirement. He had already been witness to countless times when some foremen would openly disparage his African-American co-workers. But this time, he summoned up the courage to speak up and defend one of his co-workers – what else did he have to lose? It nearly cost him his job and pension, as he was called a ”stupid ‘N-loving’ Mexican.” When a high-level supervisor who happened to be passing by heard that, he clamored to that person in authority asking if he had in fact heard that hateful comment!? He could not deny that he had heard it. So, my father, against the advice of his union representative, filed a grievance against the foreman. It did not go anywhere (of course), but those foremen made my father’s life a living Hell for those remaining three years. For example, he had to sometimes sleep in his car in the foundry parking lot during blizzard conditions to ensure he would not be late to work. The foremen would all tap their watches when he walked into the Foundry, signaling if even one second late, he would be fired on the spot.
In 1995, having left Illinois for San Diego a year earlier and, 3 years out of college as a 25-year-old operating a youth employment program in ‘the barrio,’ I was being recruited to work as a Community Representative for a U.S. Congressman. I did not want to leave my job working directly with youth. However, when I heard his story about how he had gotten on a bus in NYC after his freshman year in college to be a Freedom Rider to fight for the right for African-American’s right to vote in the South, and had spent two months in a Mississippi prison (spat upon and worse) as an 18-year-old in 1961 (see pic below), I knew I had to ‘go fight the good fight’ as well.
Today, I serve you at Mesalands College as the Chief Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging Officer and I am proud to be working every day to assure that every student has the right to a high quality education. We all are part of fighting ‘the good fight’ each and every day in what we do for our students at Mesalands College. Hate, discrimination, and vitriol still exist today. Each one of us can be change agents in seeing ALL of our brothers and sisters, regardless of the melanin in their skin. Most importantly, whatever type of ‘American’ you are, stand up and speak out when you see or hear hate and be an advocate for freedom and justice for all.