Family touched by prejudice in Homer

  • By Lynn Spence
  • Thursday, March 9, 2017 9:41am
  • News

I love this community and I love America. I have friends and acquaintances with varied political and religious beliefs who have always treated me well. Although I have a very good life, it does not mean my family has not been touched by prejudice in Homer. Each of us has his own life experiences and we often don’t know the details of those of others.

As an Asian American, I have been spit on, called derogatory names and been told I am not a real American. Our daughter experienced harassment at Homer High because she was not white. She was told she was stupid, inferior, and her friends were asked why they spoke to her.

Since she left Homer, an employer has told her she was paid less than a co-worker because a man needed more money than a woman. A rental agency rep called her a brown person and said the property owner would not want to rent to brown people. In a grocery checkout line another customer said he “would not stand behind a Jap” loudly enough to be ejected from the store — difficult stuff for a parent to hear from her child.

We discussed discrimination often in our home, but it is not until these random incidents start to add up that a person internalizes that we are not all equal. It’s hard knowing some people will dislike you because of your ethnicity or that you will get paid less because you are a woman.

My parents tried to shield their children from prejudice by not teaching us Japanese or anything about Japanese culture or our family. They expected us to excel without being noticed. They taught us to be law-abiding, hard-working Americans and to blend in. My parents are American citizens by birth, but that did not protect them from being interned by their government for three and a half years during World War II. It was a life event that gave them a little bit of insecurity about their status as citizens. My dad later served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, was a city councilman, and a Lions Club member. Our holiday dinners included strangers my dad invited from his office because he did not want them to spend the day alone. My parents are very good people.

Each of us can only do his best to understand the lives of others. And, we can also think about what we do that might infringe on the rights of others. I take the Constitution and Bill of Rights seriously. They represent hope that one day all Americans will be treated the same by all their fellow citizens, the law, and law enforcement; that our ethnicity, color, sex, religion or sexual orientation will not be a consideration for employment, housing, or respect.

I am glad so many Homer people have not experienced discrimination, that you have not felt prejudices toward anything you value in your life. My family’s experience is not quite that perfect, and I have a daughter who does not want to wait another generation for people to figure out that racism and prejudice are prevalent in our society and our town.

Being a good person is not enough to change the thinking of people who do not see what is going on around them because it does not impact them. When I look at Homer, I see a great town full of wonderful people. I also see Haven House, the Green Dot Program, and a police force that appears fairly busy trying to keep us safe. The necessity of these services is an indication that civil and legal rights are being violated on a regular basis. It also means we are trying to address them in a positive way.

It would be reassuring to know that my community understands that we are not all treated equally. And for me, the Resolution 17-019 was an opportunity for the City of Homer to say out loud that we work to protect the civil and legal rights of everyone who lives or visits here.

I understand that many people did not read the sponsored document the way I did. I read the words and saw the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I read the resolves and saw that law enforcement would protect all of us through the law.

And I thought I saw something that our community could support.

Lynn Takeoka Spence is a longtime Homer resident.

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