An American Pirate
Logan is the quintessential American child. He is of mixed parentage and has never known a day in his life when he wasn’t inundated by American culture. (He’s named after the Marvel comic book hero, Wolverine.) He has his mother Susan’s beautiful black hair and almond eyes and healthy fantasy life. He has his father Josh’s daredevil attitude, proven when he fractured his arm earlier this summer. He loves his super heroes, and, like any boy his age, wants desperately to emulate them.
Because Logan is so young, he has not yet been introduced to the traditional values that many parents introduce to their children. Parents tend to want their children to grow up without stereotypes, although those stereotypes have a way of finding us all at some point. In America, it is a way of giving our kids an equal foundation to stand on. Kids are fairly democratic and don’t tend to notice cultural differences until we point them out. In the education systems zeal to embrace all cultures in America what typically happens is we begin the process of division by pointing out our differences.
As parents, we struggle with this dilemma. When do you introduce a child to her or his heritage? Too soon and they may become alienated from their peers, too late and they may resent you or accuse you of being ashamed of your roots. By making a child’s heritage generic or adapting to “American” culture we hope our children will feel included. The solution, for some, is to let kids find their own way and to be prepared when they come home upset because someone has hurled a racial epithet at them.
When I was a kid, the Catholic priest at our school encouraged my parents to speak English only at home, thus making our assimilation into American culture much more rapid. It worked. We were able to adapt more quickly than some of our peers, but we lost much of our language. Unfortunately, the conflicts of my heritage came up long before I was prepared with a defense.
Racism has not touched Logan yet, because he has had little experience with it. In schoolchildren Logan’s age, the only difference is boys are boys and girls are girls. There are no accents, shades of color or countries of origin. Kids are simply kids. There is no guilt in Logan’s life, unless he does something wickedly wrong to his little brother. Both mother and father believe that this boy wonder should grow up without the conventional restrictions of religion and, to a certain extent, heritage. When Logan’s school asked parents and kids to participate in Heritage Day, a celebration of each student’s ancestry, Logan chose his father’s American side of the family which confused his teachers and irritated his Filipino grandfather. Logan just wanted to belong like anyone else. The problem is, he looks like the Asian boy that he is.
Both of Logan’s parents grew up American. Josh drove fast American cars and Susan was a cheerleader at her high school. I’m sure that they never considered the difficulties that their kids might encounter growing up of mixed heritage. (My mother was acutely aware of this when I became engaged to a Black woman.) Love blinds us to all sorts of things when we are planning our weddings and life together, forever.
Logan’s “heritage” moment came recently when he accompanied his mother on a trip to the grocery store. Outside of the aging neighborhood supermarket was a novelty coin operated ride that you don’t see much of anymore. This particular conveyance was a faded blue airplane that would gently rock back and forth and pitch the rider from one side to another in simulated flight for a mere twenty-five cents. Logan, never one to pass up any adventure begged his mother for a quarter. She obliged. Where else can you buy happiness for two bits?
Logan climbed aboard, strapped himself in and clutched the steering wheel in anticipation of flight. Mom dropped a coin into the slot and the plane groaned to life in full pitch and yaw. He was the Red Baron, Maverick from Top Gun and Captain Steve from Independence Day. After a few minutes, the ride came to an end and Logan sat patiently waiting for his mother, who was on her cell phone, to return with another quarter.
At this point, another woman exited the supermarket through the automatic door, spotted Logan and was taken by his enthusiasm, still making airplane and gun noises. “My goodness,” she said, “aren’t you a cutie.” Logan looked up from his gun turrets. Maybe he could milk a quarter out of this woman. “What’s your name,” the woman asked.
“Logan,” said Logan, matter-of-factly.
“Oh my, what a beautiful name.” Logan’s mom noticed the woman speaking to her son, but she seemed harmless. She finished her call and watched the exchange between her precocious child and this enamored female. Logan was going to break hearts someday. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was a standard grownup question and Logan had answered it any number of times.
“A pirate,” he said with confidence.
“Don’t you mean a pilot?” She emphasized the last syllable, pi-LOT.
“No,” he said, “a pirate.” This time he emphasized the last syllable. Logan’s mom was about to step in and settle the issue. This woman had obviously taken Logan’s looks into consideration, believing that he must not be able to pronounce his “L’s” like some Asian cartoon character, “Harro, Joe. You rike chicken bowrr for runch?”
“I think that you must mean pilot, dear,” she said in her most patronizing voice.
Logan’s mom was about to lower the boom when Logan looked squarely at the woman, clapped a hand over one eye as a makeshift patch and said as clearly as he could, “No. A pirate.” Logan sat staring at the woman with one glaring eye to make sure that she understood him. Logan’s mother winked. Logan removed his hand and winked back.
“I see,” said the woman as she stood. She turned to Susan and smiled, again, patronizingly. “You have quite the little man there.”
“Don’t I know it,” Susan said. With that, the woman turned and walked away. Susan bent down and put her nose to Logan’s. “Arrrrrrrrr,” she growled
“Arrrrrrrrr,” said Logan.
Copyright 2017 by Jose Antonio Ponce