Category Archives: tolerance

Don’t let the last name fool you.

I cannot tell you the number of times that people have tried to classify my ethnicity by my last name.   In fact, I have blogged about this in the past.   My father was from Michigan, the son of parents that were half Canadian.  But since he was not a part of my life after the age of one or two, my upbringing was certainly influenced by my mother Evangelina and her parents – my grandmother Mauricia and my grandfather Arturo.

Since I am a first generation American on my mother’s side, and my abuelos spoke no English, it should come as no surprise that I learned Spanish early.  In fact, it was my primary language.  My mother, who had learned to speak passable English from living in the Mormon colonies in Mexico with my aunts, emphasized the importance of speaking English well since we would be living in the U.S.  As a result, i was bilingual from the time that I can remember having any conversations with others.

I started first grade at Vilas Elementary in El Paso in 1962.  There were no kindergarten programs at the  time, so we all started in first grade.    There was a boy in my class (Jorge) that spoke very little English, and my teacher Miss Wilson spoke no Spanish.  That certainly presented a problem to both Jorge and Miss Wilson.

During recess Jorge and I struck up a conversation in Spanish and quickly became buddies.  Miss Wilson noticed that we were talking and was shocked at my ability to communicate with him.   She loudly asked something to the effect “Randy Bullis!  How on earth did you learn to speak Spanish?”  Apparently when my mom had brought me to school that day she assumed my mom was the maid.  (which is an entirely different topic that I will address some time.)  Because my last name was Bullis she assumed I could not possible know Spanish.

Jorge and I were assigned to sit with each other for the school year and we worked together with me translating as we went.  By the end of the fall, he spoke English much better.  (Isn’t it amazing how quick kids pick up language skills?)

I never thought much of my ability to speak both languages, it was just part of who I was.   I spoke English at school and with some of my friends, I spoke both languages at home, and I spoke Spanish with my family in Juarez.

It came in handy a lot of times, and I know it saved me from harm at least one time.  My brother and I and some friends were at the little park near our house when a group of thugs approached us at the park.  I listened to them as they planned, in Spanish, to take the baseball equipment from us.   As they approached i was able to warn my brother and friends to run before they got to us.   They seemed confused about how we knew what they had been talking about until my brother stopped, turned to them, and yelled some choice words in Spanish.  I don’t remember what he said, I just know that once i reached over and grabbed him to keep running that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Fast forward a few years.  My mom met my Dad (not my father) and they quickly married.  My dad spoke no Spanish except for the naughty words that he had picked up here and there.  Because of that, we quit speaking Spanish at home.  During the mid to late 60’s there was a large push in the schools to prohibit speaking Spanish, so we pretty much quit speaking it at school too.   In a short time my ability to speak Spanish was almost gone.  I struggled to speak it well enough to still speak to my loving grandparents.

In high school I dated a  young woman that insisted that I speak Spanish when I could, especially since she spoke Spanish with her parents.  There would be times when she would only speak to me in Spanish and forced me to respond in Spanish as well.    Thanks to her I gradually started to regain my ability to speak it, although with an accent.  During our marriage it was common for us to speak Spanish, and we tried to make sure our daughters learned it as well.  Although we are no longer married, I am thankful that she made me embrace my culture and language.

My first job out of law school was in Laredo, Texas.  I was quite surprised when I moved there in 1981 that the city was quite Spanish oriented.  Everyone spoke Spanish.  It did not matter if your last name was Sanchez or Bullis, people spoke to you in Spanish assuming you knew the language.   It was there that i regained my familiarity with the language, to the point that I did presentations for the DA’s office at schools, PTA meetings, etc. in both English and Spanish.

I have shared the story before about the poor shocked criminal defendants who appeared before me as a night court judge and cursed me repeatedly in Spanish, only to have me start reading them their rights in Spanish. The look on their face was priceless.

Back in the days before databases and other software programs, the courts in El Paso used an old Rolodex to appoint attorneys to represent defendants.  If you were bilingual, you were in as a pink card.   If the defendant spoke no English they skipped to the next available pink card.  I was a pink card.  My ability to speak both languages helped me keep my law practice afloat.

I do not turn my back on my father’s heritage.  I embrace that part of my ancestry with no qualms.   But I was raised in a different culture and I love it.  It is who I am.

My stomach turns when people say that i should not identify myself as Hispanic, that I am an American first.  Really?  I can’t be both a proud American and embrace the culture that defines me?

in fact, I am quite surprised that in my adopted home town of San Antonio that more Hispanics don’t speak Spanish.   While they ostensibly accept the culture, they don’t speak the language.  I think that misses a huge part of what it’s all about.   So let me say this to the many persons who in the past were surprised by my ability to speak Spanish  – Don’t let the last name fool you.

Good, I got that off my chest.

 

 

 

 

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Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them – a reflection on the death of a polarizing figure

I do not revel in the death of any human being.   I know that even those that we may “hate” or “dislike” have loved ones that would miss them if they were no longer around.  That having been said, I was reflecting today on the death of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, known primarily for protesting at the funerals of our fallen soldiers.   At the risk of going against what I just said, I am glad that Mr. Phelps will no longer be around to be a major distraction with his homophobic, disrespectful, and outrageous comments and actions that he did “in the name of God.”

The damage this man has done is almost irreparable, not only because of the hurt he inflicted on so many people, but because of the stereotype that he perpetuates to others about the lives and beliefs of Christians.  There are way too many people who look at this man, who perverted the central message of Christianity for his own vain purposes, and assume that all Christians have the same tenets and beliefs.  He is no more a typical Christian than the sadistic terrorists of 9/11 are typical Muslims.

It pains me to see people paint with broad strokes based on what they may see one or two people doing.  Some people that know that I am heavily involved in the Boy Scouting program automatically assume that I am homophobic, when nothing can be farther from the truth.  People see my lovely daughter Erica and my son in law Shaun and assume that because they have tattoos and piercings that they certainly must be drug users.

I would be lying if I said that I have never jumped to these types of conclusions.  I may never had said this out loud, but the first time I saw Shaun with his Mohawk, and found out he played in a metal band, I instinctively said to myself – “Not with my daughter, you don’t.”    But I allowed myself the chance to know him, and he has been an absolute gem of a husband to my daughter.  I would not trade him for anyone else in the world.  I love that kid.

People who make snap judgments based on limited data don’t understand.  This is not what it is all about.  We all have different beliefs, values and tenets that guide our actions on a day to day basis.  You can disagree with my beliefs, but don’t categorize me as a hater because we don’t feel the same about politics, religion, music, sports, etc.   I value you for who you are, not for what you believe.   Admittedly sometimes as Christians we get a bit judgmental.    By the same token those who are not believers are just as guilty of being judgmental of those who profess a religious belief, thinking we are all looking down our noses at them.

So the death of this man takes away one target.  Unfortunately, many other are in line to take his place.  And this happens on both sides of the political and religious spectrum as well.  Some conservatives would freak out to know that I don’t believe that all liberals are like Bill Maher.  (by the way, I think he is the flip side of the coin to Phelps).   If he were to lose his audience, someone else would jump in his place and start making snap judgments and overly broad characterizations.

So what’s my point?  I was reading something important in Matthew in the New Testament the other day.  Whether or not you accept it as scripture, the lessons in Chapter 7 bear repeating.

. 1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.     (pretty straight forward, isn’t it?)

 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (some people call this karma)

. . . .

12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.  (We know it as the Golden Rule)

. . . .

and finally, when you get right down to it, this is what my point is:

 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  (Actions speak louder than words)

If we are going to talk the talk, then we need to walk the walk.  I hope that I can live my life by that adage.  In the end, I want to be known not for my worldly accomplishments, but as a good son, a caring brother, a faithful and loyal husband, a loyal friend, and a loving father and grandfather.     Can’t we all try to do this?