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I know what it is like to be called a racist, when you’re not.

I was tucked away, in the last beach town in Southern California. A beach community within reach of the Mexican border of Tijuana.  A border I stumbled across many times, at the wee hours in the morning,  after nights of partying on rooftops, up and down on  Revolution Road. I brought  cigarettes from street vendors, watching tourist take pictures with donkeys painted like zebras.  I ducked in and out of established spaces, like the Hard Rock Cafe. I danced at gay clubs, that had elaborate underground back rooms that were under the DJ booth, where you had to be someone of know someone to gain access. I was an adopted member of Mexican family,  where a 15 person mariachi band was always  preforming at parties.  I drank with sailors at strip clubs. I road the bull after shots of tequila were poured into my mouth straight from the bottle, by  servers with whistles.  At the end of the night, no matter what clique I was with, I always helped  get that one friend home that had to much, but not until  after we stopped  at a street vendors, making sure we got our  carne asada tacos and 2x1 beer before crossing back over the border.  That was our Frank Sinatra "One more for the road"

Imperial Beach was the place I lived, it was eight Miles Down the strand from Coronado Island. Coronado Island was the more elaborate and influential area  I would drive down the strand in my rusty red 1972 Volkswagen beetle convertible and see people windsurfing in the ocean. It was a beautiful drive. You knew you were almost to Coronado when you would see tall apartment building matching the color of the clouds piercing the Southern California Sky . The Hotel Del Coronado was where the movie stars of yesteryear would come to play, especially after Marilyn Monroe filmed the movie "Some like it hot".  Every time I would eat there, I would picture Marilyn Monroe  walking through the dining room hall, as she had done so many years ago. The Hotel Del Coronado was not to far from the Coronado Yacht club. It had beautiful yacht's, they were docked in the harbor always clean and ready for a voyage.  Military Members running in formation and the Navy Seals training on the beach  were everyday sightings on the island.  At the end of the day, everybody on the military base, civilians and enlisted would unify under the ceremony of  lowering the flag while Taps was being played on the horn.

In between these two worlds was Imperial Beach, that's where I lived.  A  4.2 square mile beach community, with a population of about 26,324 people. To put it into prospective of how small the town was, I compared it to my hometown football stadium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Big House seats 109,901 people. The population of Imperial Beach could fit into my Midwest college football stadium 4x over.

Imperial Beach had taco shops, car washes, bars, a few restaurants, a run down hotel, a surf shop and a souvenir shop, sprinkled with 2 coffee houses and a health clinic with a sliding pay scale. I would always get my truck fixed by Al's automotive which was across the street from the VFW and in between Mickie's bar and my other watering hole The Plank. The beach was less than a mile and the pier was a mile and a half from my house. I would spend may days at the beach on my surfboard thinking  "I was miles away from Michigan and the cold weather". I felt like I had stepped into postcard living in California. My American Legion post was 5 blocks down, the groceries story was about three, and the non-profit thrift store where I worked at as a job developer was 4 blocks. Everything in Imperial Beach was close and just like in Baltimore and other places, I ran into people who never left the communities they grew up in.

I was one of the lucky ones, Imperial beach didn't have many jobs past fast food. A lot of people that lived there were military or retired military, but the core group of people who lived there, worked in restaurants, at the Jiffy Lube, a few went to school to learn how to wield  and were hired on at the shipyard in National City. Some didn't have jobs and were always in and out of jail. A few of the grannies would supplement their fixed income by selling marijuana in Imperial Beach that they grew in  Humboldt or Sebastopol California. It was a mix of America and some of the residents of the beach town, also had a meth problem.

I loved my job, I loved my life. I moved to the Beach Community after falling in love with my Sailor who I meet on one of those magical nights in Tijuana.  The long distance relationship from the Inland Empire to San Diego was taking its toll, we reached a point in our relationship where we decide we were going to move forward, so I took the leap and moved to the beach.

My job, at the non-profit organization attached to the thrift store, was not a high paying job, but it was an important one. I would spend my days helping people find gainful employment.  It was a job that I could feel good about.  It was a far cry from the "hustle and bustle"  "wolf on wall street" law firm career I had in San Bernardino.  The law firm I worked at in San Bernardino was one where, weekend were not yours, people's tempers always flared and money always flowed. What  successful people understand is that you have to make sacrifices and work at something, what wise people understand is, be happy to do what you do, so the long hours don't feel like a sacrifice. My new career path as a Job Developer,  on the side of this thrift store, in Imperial Beach was my passion. I  was fired up about it.  I gave people hope and confidence so that they could become successful. At the end of the day I knew I made a difference.

I had a few rules for success. The first rule was, we set the tone of the office, so being polite and treating everyone with respect was the number on rule.  When people walked in, they were to feel warm and welcome.  When you walked in you signed into the counter and were greeted by my assistant. She would have you fill out necessary paper work for the non-profit, then I would call people into my office and start step two of their success, (they completed  step 1 on their own by coming into the office). I would start the interview out with two questions 1) What are your needs now? 2) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

The non-profit had a quota of 4 placements a week. I was placing anywhere from 8-12 people in employment a week. Skills that I had learned at the law firm helped me create resumes for clients that captured employer's attention. I would teach people how to interview, explaining that everything matter, from the way you dressed, to the first hand shake, eye contact and complete and honest answers when interviewing. I was successful because I helped other people become successful and that was pure joy.

My days were filled with helping people find purpose and employment and my nights were exciting in the beach town. Some nights were filled with relaxing in the yard shared by my neighbors, singing songs with their Tio and Tia who would play the guitar. They always had a bottle of Tres Generation or Don Julio. Some night we would start at the American Legion, my post always had the best food and the strongest drinks. The American Legion was a much older crowd, mainly retired military.  My Father got me a membership as a ladies auxiliary member when he came to town one year to see me.  The post master was always telling a joke and you could always count on Donna selling raffle tickets as she drank her diet DP.  We would leave the America Legion full of food and funny dirty jokes that the old timers told us and hop to the next place.  Most nights out, we would  end up at The Plank, playing pool smoking, on the patio listing to stories of enlisted men. Life was good, I was working hard, making a difference,  playing hard, loving my Sailor and living life in a small beach town outside of San Diego.

I was a boss who was fair but firm, when my assistant made mistakes I would coach her so that she could become better. I would always praise in public and coach in private.  My goal and job, was to  serve the needs of the people in the community, give them hope so they can start thinking of their future and help them find immediate employment.  I started to notice little differences that I pushed aside. When I needed my assistant to translate to some of the clients, she would have an attitude about it and start to not care.  She would make little jabs that I would not get phased by, "my dad would never let me date (you fill) in the blank" people, he would disown me". I let it slide because she never said it was her directly that felt this way, but day by day I could feel that she was speaking more for herself instead of her father.

One particular day I had clients come in and I needed her to translate, I asked my two questions, what do you need now and where do you see yourself in 5 years? The women told me what she wanted in 5 years, so like many other people I had done time and time before, I started to breakdown what it was going to take to get her to her goal. One of the things that I said was it would be a good idea to learn English. So many time clients would come into the office and I would think that would have the skill set to work in an office,  but if they didn't speak English is was hard to palace them in employment where they had to deal with the public. Bi-lingual was a bonus, but only one language besides English was almost impossible unless the company only spoke one language and my resources and connections were with English speaking employers. So I had to place people where their skills and language was. Many people who didn't speak English I helped them find employment in places like hotels, but I always told them how they could reach their goals and what they had to do to get there. The hotel was a temporary stop on their way to reaching their goal.

On that same day I had a woman come in with her mother. I could tell that she was down on her luck and the meth lifestyle had taken its tole on her. Her pale skin was highlighted with unnatural meth acne, she was young but she had aged already by ten years. After talking to her for a while I found out she was living with her mom and had two kids. I asked my two questions, what do you need now and where do you see yourself in 5 years? The now was employment, the usual answer, somehow I feel the mom had a lot to do with her daughter coming in that day. but the second response stopped me cold in my track. She told me that in 5 years she sees herself homeless. There was no emotion in her eyes, I was looking at a woman who had accepted her fate, and felt like there was no reason to shed anymore tears about it, this meth lifestyle was normal to her.

I looked at her not with pity but with hope, I told her how my mother was a drug addict and how she beat it, I told her about how one of the other managers at the law firm I worked at in San Bernardino had a daughter who was on meth, and  they went to rehab and were working at it everyday. I must have spent two hours with this women, the first half giving her hope and showing her success of people who beet drug addiction. I had to fill her with motivation and tell her why she was worth it, how she had kids that were looking to her for guidance. I went into hope overload. I helped her create a plan for her life and told her that I would be by her-side if and when she needed help as long as she was willing to help herself. The second half of the time was spent getting her resume together I helped her right there in my office. I called my contacts of employment right in front of here and asked for a personal favors. "I got a woman who needs a job, might have had a little trouble in her past but were starting new today, can you help me?  I owe you one, she wont let you down" I looked over to her and winked and smiled my bright smile, and for the first time she smiled back and I could feel the life and hope coming back into her.  After a few calls I did it, I got her an interview at some place working in an office. I cheered when I got her the interview because that was the first success. Goals are meet by little success and achievements, I knew we had to keep the momentum going. When we were talking about the interview and what to wear I felt her self-doubt start to creep back in, meth had taken its tole on her looks. I gave her a reassuring smile, not to worry about her face, that those red marks could be covered by makeup and that she had amazing green eyes that would sparkle on the interview. As we wrapped up and finalized and said our tearful goodbys, she is crying, the mom has tears in her eyes and I felt like today was one of those days that was extra special. Now whether she succeed that time or not was not what I was after, I wanted her to succeed but I also understand that with drug addiction they need to here these messages over and over again and what I am doing is planting seeds, hopeful will grow.

That was the day my assistant started plotting against me. She felt that I was racist because I told people who didn't speak English that in order for them to get the  dream job that they wanted, as part of their 5 year goals weather it was becoming a nurse a firefighter  etc that they would have to become bilingual. My assistant saw me push to get this woman in her eyes, just another "meth head" a job in an office, and felt like I was was pushing non-English speakers into cleaning and mechanic jobs while going the extra mile for someone she felt didn't deserve it because this client was on drugs.

I remember I was called into the corporate office a few days later, I was thinking they were going to talk to me about my success. You could only imagine my shock when my boss pulls out letters written in another language saying that I told people to learn to speak English. The letters were written by clients that later my assistant had made into friends. My assistant was confiding in them when I reprimanded her for something that she didn't do. I had to coach my assistant on the importance of putting files away. We gathered peoples private  information,  Social Security Numbers copies of drivers licenses etc. I reprimanded her because she was careless with clients files  leaving them laying around in the office instead of keeping them with her while she was working on them or back in the file cabinet. I was concerned that anyone could pick it up and steel someones identification. That was not the story she told my boss or the clients who became her friends.

It was too late, I didn't document when and what I reprimanded her for, the letters were already on my bosses hands and I was blindsided. This is what Steve Jobs must have felt like when he was fired from his own company. You can "never connect the dots looking forward, only backwards". I would like to tell you how it ended, but that does not matter, what matters was I was accused of being something, that I was not, a "racist". I had spent my life working for social justice, helping people and spreading diversity in a small beach town in southern California.  I felt like all that was taken away from me in an accusation.

I know that a lot of Trump supports are being smacked with the label of "racist'. I myself have been guilty of automatically coming to that conclusion about his supporters, but I think that it is important to talk to each other, not about labels, but talk about issues. One of the main issues that I have with Donald Trump is that he has not always portrayed factual information and that misleading information, just like the letters that were written about me that we were not true, cause real and lasting damage.

 

 

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