Today's post is a personal one from our founder, Jen - this is her parents' story. First you'll hear from Ralph, who was Puerto Rican-born and learned English after moving to New York with his mother in the 50s. His story is followed by that of his wife, Rona, a Jewish-American Brooklyn native.
Our story began back on March 9th, 1979. It was the disco era, at a club called Reflections. It was a time when interracial relationships were not accepted by society. My wife, Rona, is a Russian/Polish Jew. I myself am Puerto Rican.
But something beautiful happened, we fell in love. We both knew that some people didn’t have tolerance for our kind of love, but we didn’t care. That was their problem, not ours. We were both lucky with each other’s families, both of which understood our respect and love for each other and they supported our journey together. We have dealt with some bigotry in our lifetime, with people who have demonstrated unreasonable attitudes toward our love, but we dismiss them as idiots (it’s like some people have taken stupid pills).
We’ve been together 39 years - and some people thought we wouldn’t make it. It’s been a blessing knowing my wife. She has been my companion, my confidant, my lover, and my best friend. She’s also the best mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law.
I’ve had 5 great days in my life, and they’re all related to my wife and our love for each other:
We’re thankful for the many who came before us and had the courage to take the step forward, who went with their hearts, who turned their backs on taboo and traditions. They made the world a better place to live, and made our story possible.
I was born in the late 1950’s and raised in Brooklyn, NY at a time when there was not a lot of diversity. I remember the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of the NYC schools in the 1960’s. I was in the 5th grade and recall being tormented by my classmates because I befriended the 2 “negro” girls who came to our class. There was a lot of ignorance. It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in my lifetime. Being Jewish, my parents were raised to fear non-Jews. My neighborhood was 99% white, predominantly Italian with pockets of others. I can’t remember being exposed to people from many different backgrounds in the neighborhood or at school.
My home was different from most of my friends. My dad was a teacher and football coach. He befriended people of different races and religions. We were not taught, as many children are, to hate people who were different. Once I got to high school, there were teachers and students from different backgrounds but people mostly stayed with their own kind. I remember having interest in a guy from another race but was not brave enough to go on a date with him. My (mostly Jewish) friends would not have considered dating a non-Jew, never mind someone who wasn’t white.
Fast forward a few years, I was working at my first job in Manhattan. I had friends of all kinds. The barriers had broken down although there was still racism among the older generation. I met my husband in the late 70’s, the end of the disco era. He was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx. We danced together and there was magic. We started dating and didn’t care what anyone thought. We were defiant in the face of sneers and comments but we were lucky. Our families supported our relationship and our friends got on board even though they were skeptical at first.
I will never forget the pain I felt when I realized that we were not going to be able to rent an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Every time we showed up the apartment that we saw listed in the newspaper was somehow “no longer available”. A helpful real estate agent steered us to Elmhurst which was and is one of the most diverse towns in the country. We blended in with people from all over the world.
Happily, things have changed for the better in many places, not all. I recently read an article that said in 100 years from now, everyone will look Filipino! What an accomplishment it would be if people would not be judged by their race or religion. I’m excited and hopeful that our daughter is helping to change the dialogue. That biracial couples can and do celebrate their differences. That we can now fly over the radar.