February is Black History Month. Some of my fondest memories are of a black family that lived across Coolidge Street, where I grew up:
When I was a little girl, some of my friends wanted to be Cinderella. Some wanted to be a nurse. One even wanted to be president. Me? I wanted to be black.
On Coolidge Street in California, we lived across the street from a black family who, like my family, had five kids. But they had five girls, and we had four girls and one lucky brother. (Though he'd probably disagree.) I didn't really know the three older girls, but Maria and Nina became good friends of my younger sisters.
Being the mean-no-fun-prudish-brainy-band-freak-oldest-sister, I wasn't included in most of the fun, and usually watched them "play" together from afar. Maria had the best laugh in the world, and Nina moved with the grace and spirit of Tinkerbell. When I say they were two crazy girls, I mean it in the fondest, happiest way.
Perhaps I noticed these things about Maria and Nina because of my upbringing by my Japanese mother. I was brought up to be hypersensitive to what others would think of my behavior, overly cautious not to do anything that might cause me to "lose face."
Maria and Nina laughed, danced and joked with such unabashed joy and freedom that it drew my sisters out of their cultural shells. I wanted to join in the fun, too. But, often, I couldn't make myself let go.
So, I stood by and watched. And sometimes I wished I was black.
Thanks to Facebook, I'm still in touch with Maria and Nina, and have even gotten to know one of the older sisters, Donna, through Facebook. Maria is currently helping me with the voice of my Broken Dolls character, Terrence. Someday soon, we hope to have a reunion.
We were lucky to have grown up with a family like Maria's and Nina's, lucky to experience a culture different from ours. For anyone who has not been so fortunate, different cultures can also be experienced through reading. Thanks to one of my blog readers for sending me the following link to a list of 25 Novels to Honor During Black History Month:
As the article says, these books "contribute to a greater cultural understanding of 'blackness' and its heterogeneous nature."
Do you have cultural stories from your childhood to share?