The Dream Lives On
Today is Martin Luther King’s day. I heard bits and pieces of his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, but I confess that it was only this morning that I heard it in full over the radio. It moved me. I think it was one of the greatest speeches that I’ve ever heard or read.
The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was a fulfillment of that dream and a testament to our maturity as a nation.
Although I’m not black, I know that I’ve been an accidental beneficiary of the civil rights movement. As an immigrant, it has opened doors previously not available to the likes of me.
A few years ago, an old Filipino man died in San Francisco. The widow was the aunt of my friend’s friend. The widow told her nephew that her husband left a lot of personal stuff. For some reason, she didn’t want to rummage through them. She said he was free to take whatever he wanted and the rest would be donated to the Salvation Army.
My friend’s friend asked him to accompany him to the old man’s place. My friend told me to join them.
It was around 11 p.m. when we arrived. We found the house empty except for the storeroom where the old man kept his belongings. They were neatly arranged as behooved a Filipino man who had lived alone for a long time. He married late in his 70s.
After a few beers, we started ransacking his belongings. It didn’t take us long to make a mess out of the stuff he carefully kept for years. Twice we noticed the single bulb providing light flickered.
‘It must be him,’ my friend said. ‘Perhaps, he wants us to feel his presence.’
Suddenly, I became scared of being watched by somebody I couldn’t see. I felt my hair stood up on end but kept my cool.
I didn’t find anything I wanted to keep. I found some old letters tied with a ribbon. After reading a couple, I decided to put them down. I felt like invading somebody’s privacy.
My friend took a military-issue blanket that looked unused and a .25 caliber gun he found wrapped in white cloth.
‘What’s your shoe size?’ he asked.
‘Here, try this pair,’ he said.
It was the right size, but I couldn’t bear to put it on.
There were some girlie magazines circa 1940s but nobody was interested. The pictures were modest in comparison to what’s available nowadays. The pictures were also in black and white.
The old man’s story could be similar to the stories of Filipinos who came in the late 30s to work in the fields of Hawaii and California. He couldn’t find a mate in his younger years because no Filipino woman was available and intermarriage between a Filipino man and a white woman was declared illegal at the time. He must have also suffered the stigma of being considered less than human. Like other colored people, he must have experienced racial bigotry and prejudice.
While I was living in San Francisco, I had a Filipino barber who loved to tell me stories back in the old days. As a teenager, he said, his father once applied at a restaurant only to be told to come back after he painted his face white. He marveled at the opportunities available to immigrants today.
In a way, he was right. Time has changed. We can have jobs he and the old man could only dream about in their youth. We can be accountants, engineers, scientists, architects, doctors, dentists, nurses, etc. earning the big bucks. We can date anybody without breaking any laws. In addition, we can live in this country without fear of losing our cultural identity.
All of these, we owe to this great man, Martin Luther King, Jr. and to the civil rights that he espoused.