My Disgraceful History: KKK

Racism, Hate, Hate Groups, Black History all discussed.

The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.

heather heyer
Hero, Heather Heyer

My Sordid Family Legacy

These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.

My great-grandfather, Eddie Johnston, came from Sweden when he was young. His family (whose name was Johnson) had been bigoted before they even got to Ellis Island. When my great-great grandfather was asked his name, he added a T to his last name… because far too many blacks in America had the last name Johnson.

Memories of Racism

  • I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
  • In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
  • A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
  • My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
  • When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
  • You know the child’s game of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe, yes?


When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.

  • Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”


heavy sigh

Add the KKK to My History

I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well.  I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.

How I Was Raised

My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.

For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.

It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.


Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.

After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.

In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.

Confronting My Own Racism


It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.


I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.

pausing some more

I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.

“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”

Amendment: Out loud.

After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?

The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.

(This is much harder to write than I expected.)

I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.

Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.

respect blm

My Apology

I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.


Some Things I’ve Learned

“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”

James Baldwin, Ken Burns‘ America: Statue of Liberty

Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.


It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.

“What’s different, he said, is that the world now has a history of what Nazism is and what it led to, which it didn’t have 75 years ago.

“We don’t have the ability to pretend like it’s not happening,”

Listening Hard


Immigrant Birthing in El Paso

I wrote about my introduction to working with immigrants in ICE Burns: My Early Doula Clients. In 1990-1991, I volunteered as a doula at a Planned Parenthood Prenatal Program in San Diego, California.

El Paso, Texas

When I moved back to Orlando in 1993, I stopped for 3 months at Casa de Nacimiento, a birth center (now closed) in El Paso, Texas. 99.9% of the clients coming through Casa were immigrant women from Mexico, usually Ciudad Juárez. My Spanish, school-acquired, then practiced with the doula clients in San Diego, became second-nature in El Paso.


While Casa gave me an amazing education and taught me many skills, there are lingering worries about being a White person using the immigrant women as practice specimens… a reverse voluntourism experience. I will write about these feelings separately; they are deep and complicated.

I was not as woke about the White Savior Complex as I am now, so merely tried to be the best student midwife I could be. I loved these women and their families. I loved talking to them, learning about their Mexican lives (which were slightly different than the Mexicans’ experiences in San Diego). I purposefully kept my heart open, wanting to be a positive birth worker for the women coming and going through the center’s doors. Those 3 months in El Paso remain some of my most wondrous life memories. While most people despise the city, I found it alive with culture and magic.

Rio Grande

Getting from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso for prenatal appointments was often a hit or miss experience for the birth center’s clients depending on which officer was patrolling the border bridge that day.

It had not been easy: The visa that allowed her to cross back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. is expensive, and she had had to prove she had money in the bank and a reason to return to Mexico to be granted it. The lines at the border between Juarez and El Paso can take hours, and border agents are said to sometimes tear up the visas of women who are noticeably pregnant. Some women end up giving birth on the bridge between Juarez and El Paso because of delays….”

When the border was closed to even those with visas, the pregnant and laboring women, with their families, trudged through the Rio Grande River… day and night… to cross into the United States. They often walked miles to reach the birth center.


Crossing the Rio Grande was bad enough, but the water was/is disgustingly polluted. American maquiladoras rose on Mexican soil years ago as a way to bypass manufacturing regulations implemented in the United States. With so little oversight, the maquiladoras also freely dump their waste, including poisonous chemicals, directly into the river… the same one laboring women were walking through. On several occasions, we would give a river-soaked woman a shower before she felt clean enough to have her midwifery appointment or birth her baby.

I remember one visit down to the edge of the river to help a nursing mom up the slope, the surface of the water had an oil (or gasoline) slick on it as well as scum like this:


All because Border Patrol would feel holier-than-thou and not let people over the bridge even with valid visas.



I’ve not been to El Paso or Ciudad Juárez since 2002, but the border topic, with #45 in power, has a new focus.

Just this week, on February 22, 2017, the Washington Post wrote “Anxiety over Trump stems flood of Mexican shoppers to El Paso,” ending the piece with:

A U.S. border agent checking documents remarked at the lack of cars.

“People are scared,” he said, as he took this reporter’s and a photographer’s passports.

Of what?

“Of our president,” he said, before sending us on our way.

Yes, those of us who have a positive history with immigrants in border towns are, most assuredly, very, very scared.

Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Washington Post



ICE Burns: My Early Doula Clients

We are watching as ICE, the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, rounds up immigrants from around the country.

And it’s only getting worse.

In Raids, they are knocking on doors, stopping people in shopping centers, going to workplaces, setting up checkpoints to examine papers and licenses and other vile ways to take, what seems to include, non-criminal folks who have been in this country sometimes for 20+ years.


In February 11th’s Washington Post, Lisa Rein, Abigail Hauslohner and Sandhya Somashekhar co-wrote “Federal agents conduct immigration enforcement raids in at least six states.” They say in part:

Hiba Ghalib, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, said the ICE detentions were causing “mass confusion” in the immigrant community. She said she had heard reports of ICE agents going door-to-door in one largely Hispanic neighborhood, asking people to present their papers.

“People are panicking,” Ghalib said. “People are really, really scared.”

I cannot even imagine how terrifying it must be to hear footsteps outside your door, then even worse if there is a knock.

My Early History with Immigrant Women

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with birthing immigrant families, most from Mexico, but others from all over Central and South America, as well. From Orlando, El Paso and San Diego, I was a midwife and doula to several hundred immigrants over a 20-year period.

My first experiences were when I volunteered to work at Planned Parenthood as a doula to their (99%+) Spanish-speaking-only prenatal care clients. My Spanish was school-learned at that time; I became fluent over the years. I made many language mistakes along the way.

the artists says this piece “portrays an oppressed pregnant woman trapped by the fear of fighting her oppressors.” I cannot find the artist, any help so I might attribute is welcome.

While the women did not all work, a myriad did, usually cleaning houses and/or being a nanny for White, often English-speaking-only people. The partners (almost always husbands) worked anywhere they could. Plenty were migrant farmworkers.

A White Observer

My care as a doula began by going to all prenatal visits during the pregnancy and visiting their home twice, making sure they had the supplies necessary for the new baby. It was not uncommon to take mom to the store, kids in tow, and buy her bags of groceries because there was nothing but rice in the cupboards. Everything from toilet paper to diapers were needed by my clients. I foraged wherever I could to find what they needed.


It had to have been difficult to have (yet another) White person enter their home and see how they lived. Would I judge? (No!) Would I think they were bad parents and turn them in to CPS? (No.) It was nice after the first couple of women let the others know I was a decent person and could be trusted.

Medical Prejudice

My role as doula continued by going to the client’s home when she was in early labor, then taking her to the hospital as labor progressed. (Doulas do not transport clients anymore because of liability.)

Once in the hospital, I remained with the client and her partner (if he chose to come and/or stay in the room) until after the baby was born, including helping her get started with breastfeeding. I translated from Spanish to English so the nurses and doctors knew what she was saying and needing.

photographer, Barbara Herrera

You know how many women choose an epidural for pain relief in labor? Back in 1990, an epidural was not an option for women on Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid).

Do you hear that?

Women on Medi-Cal could not get an epidural for pain relief.

If my immigrant clients thought they might want an epidural, they had to give a $1000 down-payment or it was simply not an option.

This was horrifically cruel and incredibly discriminatory. It took until 1998 before it was legally challenged.

The controversy over Medi-Cal rates was highlighted further through news stories about physicians charging Medi-Cal recipients for services. The Los Angeles Times reported on the practice of some physicians and hospitals illegally forcing Medi-Cal beneficiaries to pay cash for epidural anesthesia during childbirth. The physicians named in the story maintained that they had to demand payment from the patients to cover their costs because Medi-Cal payments were insufficient.

My History with Immigrants

Over the years, I worked at Planned Parenthood, overseeing one of their Prenatal Programs, then, in 1993 and again from 2000-2001, went to Casa de Nacimiento in El Paso, Texas, my path towards becoming a midwife. In 1994, I worked under a CDC grant at the Farmworker Association of Florida as a Spanish-speaking HIV/STD educator for female migrant farmworkers.

strawberry pickers near Orlando

As we watch the decreasing rights for immigrants in the US, ICE hunting men, women & children down for deportation, my heart aches. I know, because I know, some of the people being shoved out of our country are the women whose hands I held during labor, the babies-turned-children-turned-teens I helped into the world and the fathers who took care of their families working the fields and doing whatever they could to pay the bills.

It is beyond unfair.

U.S. Border Agents Pursue Human And Drug Smugglers Near Mexican Border