When I tell someone that I’ve been estranged since 1993 from both sides of my family, I often get asked, “Don’t you miss them?”
No, I don’t. Let me tell you why.
Background information: I was born in Kingsville, Texas, deep in the Deep South. Kingsville is a small farming and ranching community of about 25,000. Back in its heyday it was a major railroad town for Missouri Pacific Railroad, which is why my ancestors located there since they all worked for the railroad.
There was one black student in my high school class. I was one of his few friends, and I often got bullied for it.
I went off to college at Texas A&M University, pretty much an all-white institution of higher education. Students used to say that the only black people on campus played football or basketball.
Just 50 miles down the road was Prairie View A&M University, a sister institution of higher education but pretty much all-black.
This was in 1973.
The last time I was in Kingsville, Texas, was in 2001. At that time blacks and Hispanics were finally making inroads into politics.
I remember sitting in my uncle’s back yard one day. It was an impromptu family reunion because my brother and sister were in town, and they had not been in Kingsville in 25 years or so.
Also in the crowd were three cousins and their families, including children, and my wise old grandmother, 91 at the time. That was the last time I saw my wise old grandmother before she died in June 2003.
As the conversation turned to politics, I remembered something my wise old grandmother had told me many years previous: “There are three things you don’t talk about in polite company: religion, sex, and politics.” As soon as my uncle opened his mouth and started spouting racial epithets and ethnic slurs, I knew that my wise old grandmother was right. The conversation turned ugly, in my mind, very quickly, with everyone except me and MWOG jumping in with their own brand of ugliness. It kind of surprised me about my brother and sister because they had lived in New Orleans for 25 years. Hellooooooooooo.
I once was like them. After all, I had grown up with them.
It all started to change for me on April 15, 1993. After writing a check to the IRS to pay my taxes, I loaded my 1989 Mustang GT with 100 CDs, called a friend who lived 100 miles away and told him to come get the dogs, and disappeared. I was on my way to Canada to commit suicide.
Twelve days later I wound up in San Diego. I was out of the work force for 11 months while I worked on sexual orientation issues as I was coming out. Being gay was only part of the problem. As my coming out counselor told me at the time, “You have a lot of black and white videotapes. It’s time to colorize them.”
Eleven months later I put myself back in the work force as a temp because I only wanted to work on T-W-Th to make enough money to pay for food, shelter, and gas for the Mustang to go to the beach.
My first job as a temp was for a guy very much like my granddad. Every other word was a cuss word or a racial slur. I didn’t go back after lunch break. And now you know why I always talk about my wise old grandmother but not my granddad.
My second job started as an interview. I was to meet Alana Infantino, a lady with whom I’m still friends 21 years later. (Hi, Alana!) I didn’t know what kind of name Alana Infantino was, and I sure didn’t realize that the person was a woman. I had been raised to believe that women belong in the home, barefoot and pregnant as my uncle would say.
I liked Alana but had a problem with a woman being my boss. I remembered what my counselor had said, and I took the job, intent on colorizing my old videotapes.
Thirty days later and I was working as a full-time, permanent employee for the company Alana was with. The caveat was that I would be a consultant and would work wherever the company sent me, although San Diego would be my home base and I would get to come home every 2-4 weeks, at company expense.
The first place the company wanted to send me was Detroit. Alana, being the very smart and astute woman that she is, took me out to eat to discuss the opportunity in Detroit. By that time, she knew all about my past, my family, and why I was in San Diego. She told me that day, “Russel, there are females in the office in Detroit. There are black people in the office in Detroit. There are even black females in the office in Detroit. Are you sure you want to tackle those obstacles now.”
I was sure.
It was one of the best things I ever did for myself.
I hope the racists in Sigma Alpha Epsilon, at the University of Oklahoma, and throughout the nation—especially in the Midwest, Deep South, and rural areas where racism still seems to be so pervasive—find their Alana Infantino, and sooner rather than later. Life is so much more pleasant….
Need a unique gift?
Check out Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos.