I saw a tirade on Facebook today about how Hispanics refuse to assimilate into America. I remember a time 40 years ago, when I wanted desperately to assimilate into a part of California dominated with names such as San Francisco, San Jose, Paseo Padre, Mission Tierra and Cam Del Campo.
I realized that I was the outsider, a white-bread kid from Detroit. Here’s an excerpt from my book Wheels on the Bus: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Life in 1974:
The World’s Fair bus turned out to be very uncomfortable. All Greyhound buses are uncomfortable, but the hard-backed plastic 1970s-vintage bucket swivel seats on this one made it worse than most. I vaguely remember some guy telling me about the great acid I could score in Haight-Asbury, but for the most part my trip up the California Coast was memorable only for the scenery and this bus.
Somewhere before San Jose we were put back onto a regular bus, and I acquired a seat mate. He looked Mexican to me, but he told me he was Chicano, a word I never had heard before. He told me a lot of things about Chicanos and Chicanas, and told me about La Raza. He told me I could crash with his family in San Jose if I needed a place to stay. I declined and he playfully teased me about being afraid to meet his family because they were Chicano.
I’m sure I was not afraid, but I didn’t realize then that I was experiencing the first phase of a deja vu experience. I didn’t know that a couple of years later I would be enrolled at a community college near San Jose and that I would meet my second Chicano friend, who also would invite me to a La Raza meeting. When I hesitated he danced around pointing his finger at me and taunted me for being afraid. To prove him wrong I went to the meeting with this college friend and found the experience very odd. Not frightening, because everyone went out of their way to be friendly to me. I just felt very alone in a world that was changing very quickly for me and that I didn’t really understand.