I have been alone among many

Gordon Lee Pattison,
Los Angeles, CA.

In 1959, when I was 14 years old, I moved from Los Angeles to Honolulu. I had just started taking French as a foreign language at my junior high school in Los Angeles and wanted to continue. However, there was only one junior high school in Honolulu at that time offering French in the 9th grade, so I got permission from the Honolulu school district to enroll there even though it was not located where we lived. I don’t think we realized it at the time, but I came to find later that it was located in one of the rougher parts of the city. When I enrolled, I met with the principal who warned me that because I would be one of only two haole students at the school, I might encounter trouble from the other students because of my race. What he was telling me was to watch my back, at the same time making it clear to me that I was on my own. I was about to have an experience that every white person in America should have. I know what it is like to be subjected to the mostly curious, sometimes mocking, and occasionally hostile stares and harassment that minorities often endure. I know the feeling of isolation, vulnerability, and anxiety that comes with that. I also know as a minority member what it is like to walk into a room of people and find myself instinctively looking around the room to see if there is anyone who looks like me. I do realize, however, that my experience had one major difference from that of many other minorities in our society. I was a member of an economically dominant, privileged, albeit minority, ethnic group in Hawaii. Nonetheless, it was a very instructive experience. It shaped my life and social outlook ever afterward and gave me empathy for the minority experience in America, and for that I have always been grateful.


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