A family down the block from us took in foster kids. My parents encouraged us to go out of our way to befriend them, because they had already had a lot of bad things happen in their lives, and feeling lonely or excluded would hurt them all the more. Being one who has frequently felt like an outsider in social situations, I was completely down with that.
A family down the block from us took in foster kids.
Of them all, I only remember two. One was named Jose.
Jose Martinez was probably from Puerto Rico. He undoubtedly told me where he was born, but that information I have long forgotten. Most of the Hispanic people in my town back in the mid-sixties were from Puerto Rico. I know this because certain relatives of mine would moan and complain endlessly about “the PRs” and how they were “taking over” and that they “should go back where they came from.” I think they had seen West Side Story too many times, but missed the underlying message.
Jose arrived during the summer. His English was accented but very good, which compensated for my complete lack of Spanish. A slightly built, shy and quiet kid, much like myself. We quickly became friends, playing all the usual games and sports. We both tended to get relegated to the outfield or the end of the batting order, so we bonded.
That Fall, 1964, Jose and I entered third grade. The teacher did the usual first-day thing, having any new kids introduce themselves. I think Jose was the only one. When he said his name, the teacher (a hateful person who shall remain nameless) frowned, thought a bit, and said “Jose? That doesn’t sound right. We’ll call you “Joseph” which is what Jose really means. That sounds much better. Right? OK then.”
I don’t know what reply, if any, Jose made to that. Probably nothing. As I said, he was shy and quiet. I know all too well how ingrained it becomes to not rock the boat when you have been raised in a maelstrom. But I sat there in my seat and fumed. I was furious, for my friend and the hatefulness of it all. It seemed terribly unfair to take away even his name and his heritage, when he had so little else. I was shocked that a teacher could be so cruel to a student, a kid. To my friend.
I never once called him Joseph.
Whatever time we had together after that is forgotten. He was probably relocated, or sent back to his family, soon after we started school that fall. Foster kids used to get bounced around like Spaldeens back then. But I’ve never forgotten him, or the lesson that knowing him taught me.
I hope he has had a good life.
A lot of things have happened in my life, but now I am mainly in it for Gina and the mountain biking.