18 years ago my aunt, Melanie, married a black man, Nicholas. This caused muchcontroversy in my family. My grandfather, always a strict Catholic, rejected themarriage from the beginning. He couldn't see that my aunt was in love with a goodman who loved her just as much, and that the color of his skin didn't matter.After 16 years, my grandfather finally came around and realized that my uncle isa wonderful husband and devoted father who cherishes our family. Their twochildren have also been accepted into his life. Now, my family iswhole.
About a year ago, my family decided to go to New York to celebratemy cousin's thirteenth birthday. Ever since I can remember, she had been eager tosee the city, and this was the perfect opportunity. The whole family met early tocatch the train to Grand Central Station. My cousins and I each had money tospend, and we were very excited.
After six hours of shopping, the familymet for dinner at a nice restaurant. Little did I know, however, that once westepped inside, the evening would be ruined.
The best thing about going toNew York on a Monday is that there are few tourists, so my family couldn'tunderstand why after waiting 45 minutes we still weren't seated. We would havegone to another restaurant, but my cousin's heart was set on that one, and shewanted to stay.
I distinctly remember a particular waitress. She was amiddle-aged black woman with a smile on her face; looking at her, she seemed likea nice, approachable person. But from the second we entered the restaurant, thiswaitress couldn't keep her snide remarks to herself about how she felt about myaunt's interracial marriage.
After about 50 minutes of this waitresswalking back and forth giving us dirty looks, she finally approached my motherand said, "I assume you'll be sitting separate from them?" Poor Cathy,my cousin, looked at me for an explanation. I told her that the waitress assumedwe weren't together because there were so many people in our group. But I knewwhat the waitress really meant. I wanted to punch her. My grandfather made itclear that we were a family, and didn't appreciate her attitude. She finallyseated us, waiting another 15 minutes to take our order. All the adults werebecoming annoyed. My older cousin, Chris, and I knew what was going on as well,but Cathy had no clue.
Twenty minutes passed before the waitress finallyreturned. My grandmother, who always complains about waitresses, asked her whyshe wasn't wearing her name tag. She replied, while looking back and forthbetween my uncle and cousins, "I don't like hoodlums knowin' my name."My aunt stood up.
"Who the hell do you think you are?"
The waitress interrupted, "No, you listen to me! Who the f*** do youthink you are bringing those little monkeys in here with that n***** husband ofyours! This ain't the f***in' ghetto, so I suggest you take your lil' sorry-***excuse for a family outta here! Ain't nobody wanna see y'all in here shovin' itin our faces. It ain't right, so why don't you just get the f*** out,bitch!"
My heart shattered. Cathy may not have understood the subtlereferences that had been made earlier about color, but I knew she understood whatthe waitress had just said. I didn't know what to do. How could this happen to mycousin? And on her birthday. I felt as if the waitress hadn't just stripped myuncle and cousins of their dignity, but me too. For the first time, as I lookedinto my cousins' eyes, my heart wept for them. What could I possibly say to easetheir pain? Nothing. And nothing is what I said.
My family didn't evenbother to complain to the manager. We just got up and left. The walk back to thetrain station was silent. Nobody knew what to say. A part of me felt like thefamily I had worked so hard to bring together had just been torn from me, allwith a few words. And yet, how powerful those words were.
Back inConnecticut we went our separate ways.
We knew we weren't going to letthis incident affect our family, but we knew that the rest of the night had to bespent separately so
my aunt and uncle could have a long talk with Cathy.Chris didn't need the talk as much, but it doesn't mean that what the waitresssaid didn't put a knife through his heart, too.
I don't know what myaunt and uncle told Cathy that night. Part of me doesn't want to know. Sometimesknowing that such evil feelings still exist is enough to make me sick. I'll neverunderstand how a person can pass judgment based on the color of another's skin.It's so stupid.
I had many mixed feelings about writing this, at firstthinking that the story was too hurtful. But then I realized, racism is hurtful.It's the twenty-first century, and we were in New York, one of the biggest, mostcosmopolitan places in the world, and look what happened. It didn't matter thatwe were in the heart of where all the celebrities shop or where all the latestfashions are. All it took was one person with a racist attitude to ruin thenight.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.