A Very Different Childhood

I recently read a story about a father’s pain for his child.  His child felt different from all the kids at school and it really touched me as I too was one of those “weird, different” kids growing up.  I decided I would tell my story and how much his story touched me, and now I can’t find it!  So, with that, I will just post in the closest category I can find.

I just read your son's story and was incredibly moved.  Cried, smiled, smiled again.  Truly it is stories like his that make me appreciate EP.

My mom was a single starving artist on welfare living in San Francisco.  We lived in an illegal apartment where the toilet was in our kitchen.  Hence, I never had anyone over to play.  As a young girl, the other girls were very cruel, if not downright mean.  My clothes were from thrift stores (where I still shop today), my style was strange and I was definitely never popular.  One of the hardest things for me was Fridays.  Other kids would be talking about sleepovers, their friends inviting them and never me.  Once I finally did get invited to a sleepover, I ended coming home by 9pm devastated and in tears.  I had boy’s pajamas and the girls were ruthless.  My mother in her usual way, made a big stink (if it could have been political she would have found a way) and I never lived it down in school. 

She soon realized that I belonged in a special school.  We were lucky that SF in the 70’s was big on setting up alternative charter schools.  I ended up in one of those alternative schools.  There were two teachers there that truly shaped who I am today.  One was Ms. M (I won’t use her name) and the other was Mr. G.   To this day I am so grateful to them both.  All the kids in this school were different and our uniqueness was celebrated.  We definitely did not learn in a traditional way.  Two field trips stick in my mind to this day and I am blessed to have experienced them.  Back then I did not realize how lucky I was to experience history in the making first hand.

Number ONE field trip:

 Ms. M set up a field trip for us to go and interview   “a very important person” (her words).   I had no clue who we were meeting.  I remember being excited, a little bit intimidated, and very curious.  At the time we were studying politics and Ms. M was very opinionated, passionate and way ahead of her time (I am surprised that the SF school system allowed her curriculum – if they even really knew what she was doing).   

We walked into this office in Oakland, California and I knew right away that this was important.  It was the office of Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party.  Here I was this little girl meeting one of the most historical figures in the history of the Black Panthers and I had no clue.  He was such an amazing man.  He told us about the 10 Point Platform and more specifically about Point # 5 “We want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society.  We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society”.  At the time, he was running for Mayor of Oakland and later would go on to finish 2nd in a very close run-off race.   I wish I could remember more about the interview.  Luckily, I kept a journal (which I just recently found again), so most of this is from my own written history.  He told us he had been a political prisoner; he told us about Huey Newton, I left the interview that day thinking, “What can I do to help change the world?”  - This of course coming through the eyes of a very precocious 12 year old.

Number TWO field trip:   

Mr. G set up a 2 week field trip for the summer break and described it as a “working adventure”.  Boy what an adventure it turned out to be!  A field trip related to politics, human rights, fair labor, decent working conditions and more.  Another trip I will never forget (even though some of the details are a bit fuzzy). 

A big yellow school bus from the San Francisco Unified School District transported us from SF to a very HOT town southwest of Bakersfield called Keene, California (later known to us as “La Paz”).  We were on our way to meet Cesar Chavez, his family and learn the plight of the Farm Workers.  Another amazing man – we only met him twice during our two week stay, but became quite close to some of his 8 children and his wife.  Thank goodness for my journal (through the eyes of a 13 year old) or I never would have remembered so many things that have historical significance to me. 

At the time, Cesar Chavez had only been living in Keene for about two years.  His new headquarters for the UFWOC was called “La Paz” and it had recently received its charter from the AFL-CIO and had become a full fledged union.  As a kid, I really didn’t understand what this meant until Cesar put it in simpler terms for us.  He said that the farm workers (grape pickers, lettuce, etc.) were being taken advantage of, were paid very little, and had terrible working conditions and no security.  By becoming a union, the farm workers had banded together to improve conditions.

 In 1973, the farm workers' three-year contracts were up for re-negotiation with the grape growers. This time, the grape growers signed with the Teamsters. The Teamsters did not represent the farm workers, and 10,000 farm workers in California walked out of the fields in protest. The strike began in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Many of the striking farm workers were arrested or beaten. Some were shot and killed. To stop the violence, Cesar called off the strike after three months, and called for a national wide protest of grapes.  I don’t think I ate grapes again until I was 20.

We stayed at La Paz which had dormitory style living where we slept and ate, and we had to work like the farm workers under very harsh conditions.  Every day it was over 100 degrees and we all worked outside.  Unfortunately, I did not get assigned to any actual farming/picking type duties.  I was given dump duty.  The compound was old and there was a lot of garbage, old wood from dilapidated structures that we had to clean-up, tear apart and take to the dump.  The work was hard, but the company was fun.  All of the kids from our class met and became close with many different people, including Cesar Chavez’s family.  Evenings were the most fun, as we cooked, ate together with his family, learned their culture, snuck cigarettes and acted like the young teenagers we were.

To this day, I treasure the time we had at La Paz, the friends made and all that we learned. 

Both of these teachers helped shape who I am today; my political values; how I view the world; my belief that helping others will help me.  At the time, I didn’t realize what they had done for me.   I secretly always wanted to be like the “popular, normal kids” -   I am so happy that never happened.  I undoubtedly would be very different than the person I am today.


childoftheland childoftheland
46-50, F
4 Responses Feb 25, 2009

Yes Tasmin, the story is about me. I have started writing about many significant things in my life. I have lived (so far) a very unique life with many different experiences. I suppose my mother started me out very young - getting to see the world the way I did.

Really enjoyed and could identify with this story.<br />
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Sorry, I am being very thick .. is the story about you?

Since we are such a litigious society now, school districts would never allow such field trips for fear of being sued by the parents. Maybe that is why so many parents are now home schooling. If I can afford it, I would love to take my son out of school when he is older and take him travelling for a year.

This is Amazing. You are lucky, lucky, and more lucky. It is a pity that this would never happen currently.