My parents brought me to this country as a legal immigrant from a southern European country when I was 6 months old during the McCarthy 50's. Helped no doubt by the fact that I was Caucasian, light-skinned, able-bodied, and cute, I did not recall experiencing blatant discrimination in the Northeast cosmopolitan cities in which I grew up. By adulthood, my American accent was genuine, and my new name, courtesy of a first marriage to an Anglo-Saxon family, helped me be entirely assimilated, even as the celebration of diversity was growing in our society.
Until Arizona. It was about fifteen years ago, when my youngsters were little, that my second husband decided to venture to the Grand Canyon with his sister and brother-in-law and their daughter. Hubby, who came from my country of birth to get his PhD in Engineering in the US, spoke several languages, including English, and is well-versed in the classics and literature as well as science; unfortunately, his visiting family spoke only their native language fluently. So, we served as tour guides, teaching them more English and translating communications along our journey from California.
Most people we met welcomed us warmly, and, some were excited to meet visitors from the Mediterranean country renowned for its ancient culture and its beautiful resorts. Our trip was a wonderful introduction for our relatives to the diverse US population and the magnificent vistas of our US southwest. Arriving at the Grand Canyon, we eagerly looked forward to riding the shuttle buses up to the summit to view the sights.
After a breathtaking hike at the scenic stops, we noted stormclouds approaching, heralding a summer thunderstorm on the way. We hurried back to the shuttle bus stop, hoping that our wait wouldn't be too long to catch the bus back down to the camping area cabins. We stood patiently in line as the first bus filled up, my husband holding our two boys hands', and I, having folded up her special stroller to be prepared to board, carrying my 7 year old disabled daughter who is unable to walk in my arms. Good, we'd made it to the front of the line for the next bus, I advised our relatives in their language.
To my dismay, the next bus came, but did not stop where the previous buses had, at the posted sign for boarding. The driver continued past us and parked several yards ahead, then opened his doors. Tourists just walking up the path ran to the open doors, completely ignoring the queue and those of us waiting. I shouted that we were the first in line and had a disabled person with us, but was ignored by rude elbowers and a shrugging driver. We made it onto the bus as the first drops of rain began to fall, without seats. No one, no one, offered to stand in our place as the bus jangled and jostled down the winding road.
Spurred by my aching arms as I carried my 40 pound child, I complained to my husband and my relatives in non-English about the unusual lack of courtesy and civility. A white middle-aged man with a buzz cut stood up and faced me angrily, yelling, "Why don't you get out of here and go back to your country!" I was stunned, and burst into tears. I turned to other passengers on the bus for support, but got only laughter in response. Not a soul arose to defend our right to be there, nor to help us with our clearly visible special needs.
A half hour later, we arrived at the base. Once again, everyone was off the bus quickly, brushing by us without care. My daughter back in her stroller, I marched to the Park office to file a complaint. As expected, the response was "there's nothing we can do", though they did offer to give us a special ADA pass the next time we returned for a visit so that we could drive up the road ourselves rather than take the shuttle bus.
I suppose that will be a help if my daughter and I return to the Grand Canyon. However, I don't ever plan to visit Arizona again. We have traveled the world with her, and have met only kindness and support. Except in Arizona.
My deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the Arizona shooting and my prayers for the quick and full recovery of those injured. We were lucky we were only attacked by words. Others have experienced much, much worse. I wish I had responded then as I feel now, to tell the bigots, racists, and selfish fascists, "Get out of my country. Because your hatred is destroying its very core and values."