Lessons From Toothless Idiots

Adolfo Jimenez, June 4, 2020

I was in the third grade the first time someone called me a Cuban and meant it as an insult. One of my classmates showed up to class with two broken arms and no front teeth. He’d been in an ATC accident. In case you don’t know, ATC stands for All-Terrain Cycle. They were similar to the big four-wheeled ATVs that are popular today but had only three wheels. They were tricycles on steroids. They became illegal at some point because people were getting hurt.Thank you, Big Brother, for always keeping us safe.

I asked the kid if he fell and he said, “I ain’t no Cuban. I flipped!”
To which I replied, “At least I have all my teeth and both my arms.”

This kid was a jerk. He and I would continue to have run-ins throughout the rest of the elementary years. I don’t think I ever saw him again after that. I sure hope his teeth grew back.

My junior high (middle school to you youngsters) was a private school in a predominately black section of Dade County known as Carol City. Most of the kids in my school were hispanic or black. On the other side of the fence was a school populated mostly by black kids. We mouthed off at each other, but nothing came of it. Most of the fistfights I got into were with my classmates, kids who looked like me and had similar names and backgrounds.

I am very Americanized. I believe in the American dream. I am also very much in touch with my Cuban heritage. Although I was not born in Cuba, I feel a strong connection to the island nation that witnessed the birth of my grandparents, my parents, and my sister. Maybe it is because I am secure in my identity as an American and as a Cuban, that I don’t sweat the racism I have been exposed to.

I have dealt with discrimination. I have been insulted for being hispanic and for being white. I have had non-hispanics call me spic. I have had hispanics call me a cracker. I know that unlike a black or white person whose last name is Johnson or Jones, my name tells the reader of any resume or job application I submit that I am hispanic. There’s no mystery to my name,even if there is a vagueness to my appearance.

The difference between myself and others is that I simply do not care what people think of me. I go on about my life as if I own every street I walk on. I’m a tax payer so I kinda do.

I grew up around people of different races and colors. It wasn’t a big deal to me. It wasn’t something I embraced or rejected. I didn’t even think about it. It was something that just existed. There was a gay couple that lived in the building I grew up in. There was Kathy, the big, beautiful ginger, who wore short shorts when she washed her car and all us boys watched, not knowing what was so compelling about the scene. I know now. Thanks Kathy! There was Bowen, the maintenance man. A big white guy who taught us all karate moves. There was Ty, who was black and brainy. There was Richard, who was Asian, and Maria from Alaska who was, as she used to put it, part eskimo.

Maybe we didn’t notice the differences between us because, for us, race hadn’t been weaponized yet. All we cared about was having an even number of kids so we could play football without anyone being left out or having to play QB for both sides. So when a kid called me a Cuban like it was a four-letter word, it didn’t hurt me. It stuck with me because it was so unusual. And even at eight years old, still mastering the language of my country, I knew they were only words. Sticks and stones and all the rest.

Those stupid remarks could never take away the feeling I got a few years later when I read To Kill a Mockingbird and I cried at the injustice Tom Robinson endured. It could never take away the love I have for people who are good and decent. I’ve always tried to love people from the inside out. Maybe I have the toothless flipping idiot to thank for that.

I almost feel like I’m part of a sandwich generation of sorts. We arrived after the turmoil of the 60’s and became aware of the world after Vietnam. We came of age during the malaise of the Carter years, the hollow optimism of the Reagan years. We were too busy worrying about gas lines and remembering to Just Say No to worry about our neighbor’s skin color.

I can’t be the only one who is shocked that we’re still talking about race in the year 2020. The reason for this is simple: the government still has too much influence over what we care about and how we view each other. Their legacy and their policies are the burden we carry. We yell at them and they ignore us. In our frustration, we lash out at one another.

By this point, we were supposed to be getting around in flying cars. Instead, the country is burning. The president wants to turn our military against our cities. The other side wants to capitalize in its own way, promising to fix the problems they created and have perpetuated since reconstruction. Both sides benefit from the hate and division they have sown. They divide to conquer. Sadly, there is too much pain and too much raw emotion. This won’t just go away. The narrative is controlled by interested parties who profit from strife. They know that if we were ever to bridge the gap, it will be a cold day in the halls of American power.

The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect
the opinions of anyone anywhere.

Adolfo Jimenez is the chair of the elections committee of the Libertarian
Party of Broward County. He is an author, poet, and blogger. He lives in
Hollywood, Florida. He has published eight books, which you can find