My modest brush with “persecution” seemed to kick loose some new level of awareness in me of when I was in 4th Grade. To be honest, there were lots of things that occupied more real estate in my brain: my paper route; improving my spelling and perfecting my signature (see above evidence); making out my Christmas wish list in September; adventure movies like The Swiss Family Robinson and Journey to the Center of the Earth, plus the best comedy ever Some Like it Hot, as a result of which I developed a major crush on Marilyn Monroe; TV shows like The Twilight Zone (“Submitted for your approval…”) and Rawhide (“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…”); and singing along with the Chipmunks on “Christmas Don’t be Late” (“Me, I want a hula-hoop!”).
Still, I did deliver newspapers. So I heard that some guy named Fidel was the new president of some place called Cuba, and that it made a lot of people less free. Not everyone was free to do or be what they wanted? That just seemed wrong!
Movies opened my eyes further. I saw The Diary of Anne Frank and Ben Hur that year, and learned that Jews had been persecuted forever. This gave me a context for the Jewish boy at our school who was perpetually mocked for being different. I hated this.
I grew more sideways than vertically that year. As a result, for a while I was shoved around and called “Fatty.” But it was nothing compared to what that Jewish kid or our two Japanese-American kids were called. One of whom was particularly proud of his father’s medals for serving on “our side” in WWII. When I stood by him and tried to explain, I was labelled a “Jap-lover.” But it was nothing compared to what he experienced.
I’d seen movies about unique or deformed people, too, and would secretly distort my voice and body, and then look in the bathroom mirror and say lines from those movies, and start to cry.
There were no “negroes” where we lived, and I began to wonder why. A few years later, I saw the movie A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier, one of my favorite actors, about a family “politely” blocked from moving into an all-white suburb. When I learned that a similar incident had happened in our community, I was disgusted. I’d always known I was different too, arty, bookish, a dreamer. And yet I knew…
It was nothing compared to what they experienced.