By Mia Garza McCord, President. 1/20/2020
“We don’t have school tomorrow because it is MLK Day,” proclaimed our 6-year old son from the back seat on the way home from our Sunday Costco run. “That is right. Do you know why we celebrate Dr. King?” I quickly asked, not really knowing what to expect. “He was a pastor,” he retorted. “Yes, but he was more than that. He was a leader who believed that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what they looked like, what color hair they have, where they live, or if they are a boy or girl. He believed that everyone should be respected and loved. Even more, he taught this without using violence. He always asked people to make their voices heard peacefully. He was pretty cool, kiddo. And, honestly, his work is one of the reasons why it is ok for mommy and daddy to be married.” Whoa! That hit like a ton of bricks coming out of my mouth as my eyes began to water and my voice strained trying not to cry.
For those who don’t know me, I am Latina. Sometimes I go by Mia McCord and others, Mia Garza McCord. While my interracial/ethnic marriage has never bothered me, it has made complete strangers uncomfortable. Oddly enough, I’ve found this discomfort transcends other races and ethnicities. The fact that I would marry outside of my culture is flabbergasting and sometimes offensive to people with whom I share my very culture. Odd? Sure. Does this bother me? No. I usually choose to make light of these situations by spouting some self-deprecating joke about how my married name changes my ethnicity and race on voter rolls.
The truly perplexing and self-conscious moments for me come when my character is pre-determined by my appearance and surname. Even in today’s society, I have been in rooms where I am being judged by my “olive complexion,” or “my easily tanned skin” as some have described it. Or, when I first moved to Austin, my “cute accent” that is practically non-existent after almost 20 years out of South Texas. I have been overlooked or offered less compensated because as a woman, surely, I cannot balance family and career and still be good at my job. In conservative circles, I am often called on to talk solely about immigration or abortion (both issues I have strong opinions on), as though my gender and ethnicity only lend me to those issues.
Here is the beauty of all of these instances that could be considered by some as discrimination; they have made me who I am today. Instead of holding me back, they have served as the driving force behind my inability to accept failure. Instead of creating a heightened sense of entitlement and being owed something by society, I feel more like myself when I am giving back to the people and communities around me, and even more, when I have the opportunity to mentor other women in my field. All of these instances have made me strong, proud of my heritage, and a mom who is not afraid to tear up when explaining to her six-year old son the significance of a great man like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
How would you describe the contributions and significance of MLK Day to a six-year old? No matter your race, ethnicity, gender, I urge you to take a moment today to read or listen to the message he passionately delivered in Washington in 1963. “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”