Regular Americans Speak Out Part 8 Maid, Native American, and Student

A series of essays from various regular Americans on love, work, and life in these United States including a maid, Native American, and a student.

America Speaks

WILLIE ELMA JAMES, maid, St. Louis, Mo.

"We didn't have any milk and we didn't have any money and my husband said, 'I just can't let these children starve.' Nobody wanted any steps washed or anything. When he left home, he knew we didn't have any milk. So he took a half a gallon of milk off somebody's step and brought it home for the children; that's the 1st time I'd ever known him to take anything. Later on when he got a job he went out there to try to pay the people, and they told him no. Said they didn't feel bad long as they knew that some hungry child had some milk." (From: The Workers by Kenneth Lasson. New York, Bantam Books, 1971.)

BEN BLACK ELK, son of Sioux chief, Black Elk, S.D.

"... many schools for Indian children make them ashamed they are Indians. ... The schools forget these are Indian children. They don't recognize them as Indians, but treat them as though they were white children. ... This makes for failure, because it makes for confusion. And when the Indian history and the Indian culture is ignored, it makes our children ashamed they are Indians. I started to school when I was 7 years old. I couldn't speak a word of English. I had long hair that hung to my waist, and it was in 4 braids. When I made progress in school a braid was cut off to mark my progress. ..." (From: I Have Spoken, compiled by Virginia Irving Armstrong. Chicago, The Swallow Press, 1971.)

LISA MAH, worker in the Chinatown Neighborhood Arts Program, San Francisco, Calif.

"We wanted to be known as that nice Chinese family upstairs or down the street, you know, whom you wouldn't ever want to hurt in any way. My family was very aware that they were embattled Chinese in a white district, that they had spent many years finding that place to live, and that at any moment they could be asked to leave. And somehow a quality I sensed out of all this, about being Chinese, was a vulnerability. At any moment you could be thrown out. So you had to watch your step and you had to be very clever, you had to placate, you had to maneuver. And no matter what happened you did not get openly angry, because if you did, you would have lost your dignity. No matter what they did you had to be stronger than they, you had to outlast them." (From: Longtime Californ' by Victor G. and Brett De Bary Nee. New York, Pantheon, 1973.)

PAT O., student, Boston, Mass.

"I guess I always wanted to get married when I was a little girl and still do. Then, in the 5th grade, I wanted to be a teacher because I really liked that teacher; she always thought up new projects for us. I even remember kindergarten. We were allowed only 2 turns on the swings and I wanted it all the time. The 1st grade was more interesting--we colored pigs. In the 2nd grade, there was a lot of drawing. I did a dog with his tail wagging and the teacher got mad and said, 'You're not supposed to draw what you can't see.' But I had it pretty good. She let me get up and tell the class stories I had made up." (From: Personal and Vocational Interplay in Identity Building by Jeannette G. Friend. Boston, Brandon, 1973.)

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