When bigotry is shouted over reason, threatens a life, or forcefully deprives anyone his or her most basic human rights, those acts are undeniable. Bigotry as a sin is exclusive to no one as it exists worldwide in every nation, race, culture and even religion.

Whose side does God take when opposing people of faith are in conflict? Is there any harm done even when bigotry is spoken kindly?

Everyone’s affected by bigotry knowingly or sometimes unknowingly because it’s not always as obvious as when bigotry’s spoken kindly. Bigotry that’s spoken in kind is like an unseen cancer that spreads slowly and can be just as destructive as a wild fire that will consume you in whole.

My parents lived in the port city of Santa Rosalia, Baja California, Mexico. Mom always described her home as the United Nations because the people who lived and worked there came from every continent. I believe that life experience came to define my parents who saw first hand what the best and sometimes the worst of living in such a multicultural community could be.

When my parents moved to California in 1944, they lived in South Colton, south of the train tracks where the Mexicans lived. My parents experienced culture shock as everything from the way they spoke to the way they dressed was harshly criticized by other Mexicans.

Years later my parents bought a house in a white neighborhood in Colton where they were largely shunned by their white neighbors and equally criticized by Mexican friends and family for acting too good to live among their own. My parents didn’t buy into racial limits, they simply decided they’d make their own life. Others like my parents made similar choices but for some of them, hard-earned success meant “pulling up the ladder” they’d climbed so others after them wouldn’t put their achievements at risk.

My parents worked hard for everything they earned, while doing all they could to help others succeed regardless of race. My mom’s last job before retiring was as a seamstress, working long hours, under true “sweat shop” conditions. She worked tirelessly among the other women, mostly Mexican, the others were recent Vietnamese immigrants. Mom was proud of her work and of herself.

Mom’s employers took notice of her and befriended her. Her boss and owner of the business asked mom if she was Mexican because by her fair skin, outgoing personality and her cute accent she had to be Italian. She told mom she’d call her “Toni” instead of Antonia because it sounded more Italian.  That it was said which such kindness, my mom took no offense to it and from that day forward she was “Toni.” Even to all her grandchildren she was “Grandma Toni.” My dad and all our relatives from Mexico never called her “Toni,” always Antonia or as a term of endearment “Tonia.”.

My mom took great pride of her Mexican roots. She was a deeply proud woman and always spoke her mind. In that respect she was fearless. So there’s a certain irony in her becoming “Toni”. She saw herself as an equal to her employer, nothing less. Yet, kindness and friendship was extended to her only after her “Mexican” identity was replaced with one more palatable to her employer. She was given their friendship on condition, but she still worked tirelessly in a sweatshop for minimal pay.

This story of conditional acceptance may pale in comparison to a violent act of bigotry that threatens a life, or forcefully deprives anyone their most basic human rights, but this act bigotry expressed in kindness cuts just as deeply into the soul one drop of blood at a time. Sometimes you just don’t see it.


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