I know I am a racist. Not the KKK sort of racist, some call it white privileged, or even prejudiced, but I know it is there. It is subtle and that is what scares me the most. The dictionary definition says something about thinking my race is superior. Well, I don’t exactly fit that. I was born into a privilege, a class, a time, and a place of the world that mirrored me, that told me I could be greatness. It isn’t all about skin color either, but it does have to do with a type of segregation. My parents never said any racial slurs that I remember. Perhaps that was part of the problem. My town and my elementary school didn’t have any black people in my class; none of my teachers were from other races; none of the presidents during my youth were other than white males; however, we did have Hispanic or Mexican people around us. That is part of the history of California. Many that I would see were migrant workers. I noticed a difference and I don’t ever remember that being anything about skin color; however, there was a difference—economically, culturally, and even in school and education. To my untrained brain, the students in the class and the people around town seemed less educated; I couldn’t understand that they were navigating two languages and two cultures. I wouldn’t understand for many years the beauty and power of the Spanish language.
Now I love the Mexican culture. I find myself more at home there. I love how they cherish family, and gather together to BBQ. I love the stores and the food and language. It took me a while to appreciate the music, but I love some of the mariachi, rancheras, and corridos. One of my favorite songs is La Malaguena, especially with Trio Calavera and Javier Solis wailing the falsetto. There is something so romantic and beautiful about the old Mexico. I loved the movies from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, movies with Pedro Infante. I loved the stories of the Aztecs and Conquistadores and the Spanish Mission period of California. I love the stories of Zapata and the revolution. To me, California is part Mexico; that is our history.
Chico and I are travelling up the north coast, out of California and into Oregon. Today we run a rugged bit of the Oregon coast just North of Coos Bay. It is no more ugly or more beautiful than many coastlines of my life. It is solitary and nobody else can be seen for miles either way and that makes it perfect. There are many beaches like this haunting my memories, places of the past that will never be the same. This one is an open dog beach and Chico can run it without fear of rangers, no cars driving, and only one ATV rides by on my way out yelling at me about needing a flag. I ignore him and figure I will deal with the consequences if a ranger does find me out there—that is part of my privilege too. Often in this life I have done the wrong thing but believed I would be OK: stolen baseball cards from the store, snuck into gated lands to build forts in the grass, climb neighbor’s fences into yards without permission, drunken late night bike rides, illegal skateboarding, speeding on the freeways, my dog off the leash, and even driving onto private property, and fishing without a license. I was never that worried. What could really happen?
We run down wind, enjoying the silence, the way the world hangs with you in the wind, the push to your back, and the return run with the wind thrumming into your ears along with the roar of aerated water pushing deeper into me. It is meditation for me. I usually run past the starting point heading back north further against the wind, just so I can turn to walk back south with the wind at my back again, the silence returning, my savasana or something, the world dead again in quietude.
Terrorism does something to us, like injuries to self-confidence, maybe on purpose. Maybe this is how we form the stories we need to tell; we shape the morals of our future through the mistakes of our past. It is fear, ancient fear, big cat fear, and thundering gods with our lives in their whimsical command, the waves pounding the shores, a boat without mast. Perhaps these attacks need to happen; we attack each other to build more and better social rules. Maybe it is built into the system. We clash. However, the new rules are key, the new stories in all their varied forms, they define something, tell a new narrative and move us to a new future. What if we never move and every story is just a re-telling of an ancient story and Moses always heads to the desert and always returns with vengeance? Salvation is a tortured child? Love is unrequited? War is fought because of ignorance?
Chico knows when we are close to the truck again. He knows when we are heading back. I wonder how he knows this. The wind is blowing on shore, and I am elated about having the sand and the ocean again…alone. My heart sings for the solitary beach, no sport needed. I am supposed to be looking for surf and paddling the new inflatable stand-up-paddle board (SUP) I bought, but they are just excuses to get away from it all. Like fishing, I never needed to catch anything—just a reason to stand in the water and stare into myself.
Last night, Chico and I rode the tides of the ocean and the currents of the Coquille River as the sun set on the lagoon. Two young seal pups followed us around with their eyes peeking from the water. Nobody else was on the water but a couple of fishermen when I launched at the boat dock. Their first and only question was about Chico’s breed. He was meant to be on a boat, the wind in his fur, and the salt on his tongue.
I am grappling with the world and the hatred, the division and ignorance, and questioning my own part, my own division and ignorance. I am working on letting go of right and wrong and focusing on communication, awareness, and openness. My mantra to my life lately: open.
After the Coquile, we drove north to here. I love the way the grass holds onto the sand, it dances in the waves of wind, the same swell of the ocean, the power of change across temperature, the movement of the unseen. Beneath my feet, while I walk in the sand, I can hear the breaking and tearing of roots from the grasses. I wonder how connected each bunch is to the next. There is something about the breaking sound of the roots that is both exhilarating and horrifying. I want to hear it, but regret doing it each time. This beach is a long sand bar north of Coos Bay. The whole Oregon coast is either cliffs or sand, and every so many miles there are large lagoons from another large river carrying sediment out to sea, the long shore current carrying sand south. Perhaps this sand is mostly from the Umpqua River north of here. We put the truck in four-wheel, after first helping pull a small Prius out of the sand, and found a small hill overlooking the ocean from where to sit and relax, read and write, and run the beach. Behind us is a lumber mill and a large lake labeled on the map, “Industrial Waste Pond.” Don’t think we will go swimming there and it makes me question even the ocean waters surrounding such a place. It is interesting to me how we can take something like timber, something pretty natural, and end up with a lot of industrial waste making our products from this. I am sure there is a better way.
I have had a few friends from different races and different cultures. I don’t think of them that way when with them, but I am not blind or ignorant to it either. The first person I vividly remember who felt and seemed different from me was a young boy I rode the bus with and I don’t even remember his name, but he always had bags of candy he shared with me on the bus. He was gone after less than one year. I look back now and think he was Hispanic, but all I knew was that he was different from the other kids I knew.
Because I played soccer, many of my friends were Hispanic. I learned a lot from Raul Salto. I used to skateboard with one of my best friends Zamna. His mother had to get him an ID card because police wouldn’t believe him when he gave his name. I still love the sound of it as it rolls off the tongue and want to scream it like a super hero’s name. He went to Alaska with me. There, I became best friends with a native Aleut named Cecil and we would spend countless hours together wondering around Karluk. In San Diego I played on a Mexican soccer league with a friend who lived in Tijuana. I guess that goes with moving around a lot. I can’t say that I have a lot of black friends, but as a child I worshiped Bo Jackson. I collected his baseball cards, magazine articles, and hung posters in my room. I don’t ever remember thinking about him as being “black.” He was an idol for me, but I remember when my mother bought me his autobiography and I read about how he learned to run by running from the white kids who chased him, I thought that must happen in Alabama, not here in California.
In college I used to have a friend I really cared about who was black. I say “used to” because Jamel committed suicide a few years back. I have tried to write about it, but never found the right way yet. He messaged me a couple days before and I missed the message.
I met Jamel in my poetry class with Jeanne. I was sitting in the desk waiting for the first day of class, so confident about all I knew about writing already and how I would amaze everybody with my skills, when the window slid open, a leather satchel placed through the window, and then a foot with a nice pair of dress shoes, and slacks reached through the window, until the whole body came through it and there, like a magician, stood Jamel. His beautiful smooth skin and larger than life smile beamed to everyone in the room. He appeared an extreme extrovert to everyone. I knew we would be friends from that very moment. We wrote poetry together, went to parties, and wondered around the streets. He would stop at any moment and capture audiences with his spoken words. I don’t want to write about him right now, but he taught me a lot about growing up in South Central Los Angeles and how he felt moving to Chico, how his anxiety would climb because he felt so out of place. I am frustrated with our society right now, and trying to understand my own faults better. I keep seeing my own privilege and the way the world opens for me, but I want equality.
On the beach, millions of by-the-wind sailors or sea rafts, also known as velellas washed onto the shore. This happens at times. Without any means of locomotion except the small sail reaching into the wind, they ride the winds of the ocean. Each one is not really an individual, but a hydroid colony with individual polyps, the dangling strings that sting and “fish” for food. Related to the Portuguese man o’ war, with their long, sometimes 30 foots tentacles dangling down into the ocean with stinging nematocysts on the end, the by-the-wind sailors are tiny versions of those, with the tentacles normally unable to sting humans. Nonetheless, each small sailing velella is actually a colony of multicellular organisms called zooids connected together, like coral, through a tube where they share the small algae they hunt. Sometimes thousands of these colonies drift together in the ocean currents. When surfing, if you see one man o’ war, stay out of the water because there might be many more. The by-the-wind sailors are mostly harmless to humans; however, when the winds shift, or warm waters move closer to shore, they are pushed into the surf, eventually left on the high tide line to wither and dry in the sun. Each colonial velella reproduces through a budding process that makes them all clones of each other. They are all the same. All of them, washed to the shore to die together in the sun.