Yes, a very “blue” Texan, from the blue area of the Rio Grande Valley. But no, not the reddest state; Wyoming, one-half million people, now edges out Oklahoma, with four million—both largely Republican! Four Senators between them; four for California (40 million) and New York (20 million). Well, hooo-eee! Now that there’s fair, ain’t it? (This blue Texan gets redder—in anger, not politically—each day.) Yet, I went home.
They say “you cant go home again.” But I did. You can. You just might not find things quite as you remembered from your youth—or, you might find out, as I did, some new things you were never taught. I did. Like, the remains of the massacre by White racists in the Tulsa community of Greenwood.
I went to Tulsa to visit the impressive memorial, gardens and monuments of Reconciliation Park, one hundred years after the “Black Wall Street” massacre; that event was recently commemorated, May 30th. We toured some of the forty-square blocks that had been burned out. Whites, jealous of Black success, descended on the area, even bombed it from small airplanes, all incited by a racist lie (sound familiar?). I bawled my eyes out, even though I had, by that time, read the history.But I learned so much more about my home state, its tragedies, its hopes. We came as pilgrims, left as penitentes.
My sister, Betty Jean, along with her helpful son, Kevin, and my naturalist/ornithologist cousin, Warren, came from other parts of Oklahoma to meet me—Norman, Ponca, Tonkawa, and Newkirk. They, like myself and so many, had never been schooled, formally or informally, about the sickening conflagration. Then, we met a member of the Reconciliation Committee, the elegant Vanessa Adams-Harris, she, African American and of the Muskogee Tribe, her husband, Chickasaw.
Ms Adams-Harris quietly explained, in precise terms, the history of the massacre and some of the current day connections. Of the 11,000 Blacks who lived in Greenwood, many had ties to African American slaves who had accompanied the Five Civilized Tribes on the Trail of Tears. The obelisk in the center of the park included symbols of further dispossession, namely the various “Land Runs,” (in which, I realized more profoundly, my own Grandfather had taken part). The national government had decreed land taken from Native Americans to be that of homesteading, White settlers. All our families were involved, in various ways, in past injustices.
Later, some more positive visits, more “wide open spaces”; my sobrino político, Eddie, married to my niece, took us to West Oklahoma; dad-gummit, didn’t get to go see or snap a photo of the newly christened “Donald Trump Highway,” decreed by sycophant, (lambiscón, in Spanish—pardon my French), Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. Instead, we drove through the striking Gloss Mountains, their giant red turrets jutting upward, shiney with isinglass, topped with granite, streaked with alabaster.
Then to the “Oklahoma Desert,” miles of fine sand, churned by the winds, filled with tourists and dune buggies, on the way to Fairview and Vici (as in “Vini, Vidi, Vici,” but pronounced “Vai Sigh.”) Other things I never learned about when I grew up in Oklahoma! After that, on the way to the small but attractive Stillwater airport, a tour of my old Alma Mater, Oklahoma A&M (now OSU), five times as large as during my tenure there. It still is a leader in animal husbandry, specializing in horses; perhaps I should have, but I went Political Science and International Relations.
During my visit, re-discovering my home state, I had other pleasant encounters. Besides religious services in the small Christian Church (“Disciples”) my Grandfather had helped build, I returned to meet old high school chums, in the Newkirk Senior Center. One farmer, in his overhauls, blurted out, “hey, Gary, how you gettin’ along with them there illegal aliens down there in Texas?” I thought to myself, “oh damn, now it starts, the anger, the division.”
I responded, (putting on all the Okie accent I could remember) “‘jes fine; we like ‘em; they’s honest and hard-working, and we need ‘em; the U.S. is losing population.” He rejoined, “ya know what I think?” (I braced myself; “OMG, here comes the racism.” No. Instead he yelled out with a bellow, daring anyone to think otherwise, “I think they should all be citizens!” I could have kissed him; but a back slap was more appropriate—it was, after all, Oklahoma.
After a tour of a fine antique store (my sister’s friend, Ms Carolyn Kahl, in Newkirk) with a great collection of Elvis memorabilia, among the other treasures and polished stones, I returned to Stillwater and flew home—via ”American.” We are all Americans. We are all connected. We are all in a new “land race” for strength and progress. If Oklahoma has receded somewhat in my estimation, I rejoice at the more than considerable traces of logic and hope—and controlled anger. A pickup truck I spotted, driven by a Native American–in braids–had a bumper sticker: “Custer Had It Coming!” Then he parked, walked into the Walmart and ordered a hot dog.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and educator Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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