There’s Ruby up above. She’s looking forward to her 97th birthday in a few weeks. Ruby has been in the US some 95 years. Born in 1921 she recalls crossing the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande (depends on where you’re standing which name is used) on her grandfather’s back. But she was so young nobody really knows. It was a very long time ago and the details are lost in the mist. Warren G. Harding was president. Here’s what else was happening in 1921:
1. The Emergency Quota Act set immigration limits on eastern European Jews. This ban on Jews being allowed in the US resulted in a Jewish migration towards Palestinian lands. The ramifications are still seen today.
2. The first victim in the Osage Indian murders was discovered. This was a series of killings of Indians to get mineral rights. Estimates of sixty wealthy full-blood Osage Indians were killed during a several year reign of terror.
3. The Tulsa race riot, which should be called the Tulsa massacre or Tulsa pogrom, took place between May 31 and June 1, 1921, when a white mob attacked the wealthiest black community in the United States. The attack was carried out on the ground and by air and destroyed more than 35 blocks of the district. No accurate figure exists for the number of dead.
4. Sacco and Vanzetti found guilty. Italian and immigrant with unpopular political beliefs they were railroaded for a crime they did not commit and eventually met their ends in the electric chair.
This is one year of our racist US history and only the most notable racist events of that year. I read this and thought, wow, have the underlying causes changed? Has the fear of other in our society dissipated? Has the avarice and resentment gone? The answer is a resounding no. I also wonder why I only learned about Sacco and Vanzetti. Revisionist history harms all of us. It allows some of us to believe there’s a level playing field. It makes us think we’re all playing by the same rules. It is the root of entitlement and privilege. This is white supremacy and it runs deep. We must face it and resist it wherever we can. We must make restitution, too.
At the tender age of two Ruby entered the United States. Mexico was just finishing its revolution. Her father was working on the railroad in the southwestern United States, an area that was once Indian, Spanish, and Mexican. Ruby’s father met a tragic end after becoming sick and dying in the railroad hospital only a few years late. Within a couple of years the family moved to Montana. Can you imagine Montana in the twenties? In 1920 half of Montana’s population was foreign born. That’s not including Native Americans, I presume. Less than 100 years ago this state was full of immigrants looking for opportunity. The Indians were all penned on their reservations by then. How quickly we forget our own history and our sins. The complications are important to hold in mind as we sit and try and decide what is fair and who is welcome.
Ninety-five years later Guadalupe (Ruby’s birth name) is still here. She became a citizen in the 1940s. She spent her career as a nurse. She marched for civil rights all over the United States. She raised a family. There are more Rubys out there hoping for a chance in this deeply flawed country because it is better than the situation they have where they were born.
A word on railroad hospitals. I remember when Ruby first shared the story of her father dying in a railroad hospital I was shaken. Her father had fallen ill with some kind of stomach ailment. He was shipped off to a hospital hundreds of miles away from his family. The hospital was owned by his employer. The family received no word until he was dead. These hospital were set up in the frontier areas of railroad expansion to purportedly aid workers. It was difficult finding workers willing to work in harsh and remote areas of the country. Most were, surprise, immigrants. The railroads hired doctors and built ‘hospitals’ to attract workers. Or did they hire doctors to control the workers? Here’s one take:
The very first medical subspecialty organization in the U.S. was the Railway Surgeons. Unlike physicians of today who at least in theory are supposed to put the interests of the patient before the interests of anyone or any institution or company, the Railway Physicians gave their primary allegiance to the company, and viewed their major challenges as the identification of malingerers, defending the company against lawsuits, competition from unaffiliated physicians, and maintaining their access to the free pass. – RWM (aka Railwayman, I don’t know his real name so I cannot attribute correctly)
It’s safe to presume Ruby’s father didn’t have much of a chance at a railway hospital hundreds of miles from home. Perhaps,even, Ruby’s mother was forced to return to Mexico to give birth because the hospital wouldn’t help her.
Last night we sat with Ruby and visited. She lives in an assisted living facility. Her family is nearby. Ruby told us that someone had recently someone asked her advice on living life. Here’s what Ruby said, “Fall in love!” Ruby had a many decades marriage to Ed who died a few years ago but she wasn’t talking about that kind of thing. She was talking about big love. She said first fall in love with YOURSELF. Then walk out the door and look around and fall in love with everything. Words to live by. The trees, the birds, each other.