A look at Vicki’s perspective….
1931, San Francisco,CA
My first memory was seeing my mother and father walking together in public alongside my sisters, Connie and Frankie holding hands at age seven when we would go to the Nickel Baths. I wasn’t a strong swimmer and learned to swim really three years later, I was terrified of drowning so I stayed alongside the pool’s wall.
Both my parents worked, my father two jobs at one point. When my mother was at work my father had time to take us to the nickel bath pools in Excelsior one day a week. She worked around the corner and would meet us after work at the pool every Sunday. I was so excited to jump in and be around the other kids. All around you would see kids from the neighborhood mostly, Irish,Italian, Black, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic the merging of different languages as their parents watched them from the balconies. My dad ran into a friend and sat while we played in the pool. I was so fearful of the water yet found the fact that I couldn’t touch the bottom exhilarating as I gripped the side of the pool. I saw someone dive off the board just watched them-that was what I looked forward too seeing them propel into the air and into the water.
I knew when my mother got there it was time to go. “Mom-can we go back again tomorrow?” My sisters and I kept asking as she dried us off. “Once a week girls only.” Frankie protested “No. I saw on the sign its open tomorrow and you don’t work Mondays mom. Come on.” She stopped, “Sundays only-let’s go.” As we got up and left the pools were being drained. “Do they do that everyday mom?” She cheerfully answered, “they’re just cleaning girls-that reminds me we have to clean today too! Let’s go!”
I didn’t understand how much of what happened to us-it was normal. My mother’s sister, Constance from England also married someone who was Filipino, and they would spend our modest weekly dinners with us on Sunday. Constance always smiled though her and my mother were beginning to worry about their mother back in England post World War I. After bedtime I could hear Constance crying in the kitchen with my mother. Our apartment was so small that the living room was converted into me and my sisters and bedroom. My mother whispered, “don’t mind them” (referring to co-workers) and Constance’s voice cracking “Oh Gert-you would have a word with them if you heard what they had to say. They said I would have been better off marrying a dog than marrying someone outside my own race. That its “embarrassing” to see me with someone who-Then I just think to you and Teo and your girls, it can work.” My mother whispered “its not always easy.” Constance sighs, “I should go-I have to get to work early in the morning.” I pretended I was sleeping as she tipped toed over and kissed our foreheads before she left.
The next day as we were getting ready for school-my sister Frankie and Connie were fighting and my mother was calming us down as she was looking for my coat. The phone rang as she was putting my shoes on. “Girls! I can’t here a thing-Yes-This is Ms. Taylor-“ her heart sank as I saw her gasp. She broke down into tears and my sisters stopped fighting to see our mother for the first time cry. At age seven and eleven, my sisters embraced our mother and all we needed to know that’s all we needed to do.
It was my father who had to explain to us that Constance was no longer with us. But it was until I was in my teens that I found out what actually happened. Constance was found dead in an elevator shaft at work. She had been receiving those insults at work as threats and though it was deemed an “accident” but we all knew it wasn’t.
The next week went swimming I couldn’t help stay by the pool and look at my mother. Anita, her Hispanic friend and former co-worker came up to my mother and gave her a hug, her husband Michael, African American quickly followed. Their son Michael was in the pool splashing water all over Connie playing Marco Polo.
I saw then sign along the wall that said “International day Sundays” then “Monday-Saturday 8am-8pm,” Frankie was right the pool was open seven days a week. My father and mother kissed each other, my dad said, “okay see you girls at home.” Connie protested, “can I walk with dad?” My mother whispered, “no girls dad will be home soon okay.” Connie started “But-“ Frankie stopped her.
It wasn’t until years later I learned “International day” was the one day where “Immigrants and Colored People” could swim until the pool was drained and sanitized for facility to be used for “whites only.”
That was the last day my parents held hands in public. That was the last day my mother lost a bit of fire and turned to worry. That was the last day my mother taught us to stand up straight-she told us to look towards are toes. I looked up one time as we walked and saw a couple staring at us shaking their head. was the kind of look you have towards a stench, or disappointment,as if I had done something wrong without knowing. I turned my head and looked back down.
It wasn’t until at 15-I learned to dive at Fleischacker pool when I began learning how to stand up straight and also to teach my mother and father.
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Read my journey here: http://positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/becoming-victoria