Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My Father

Dear Regular Reader,

If you think I write a lot about my mother, you're right. I mean, I can't get away from that woman. My sister and I have always been dominated by her strong personality, but our mom is also like our third sister--only bossy because she's the mother, after all.

This week, I'll fill you in a little bit about my dad. That's him in the photo as a young soldier in Germany. The Winfrey's (some who are first cousins to THE Winfrey--Ms. Oprah) are planning a family reunion this summer, and my father and I plan to attend. I just hope there's something vegan I can eat in Arkansas.

Although I've written about my dad extensively in an essay included in the anthology Brothers and Others published about seven years ago, I'll brief you here.

Born in Richmond Texas in 1927, my father was the oldest of three boys and a girl belonging to Andrew and Eleanor Winfrey. A chauffeur and maid, respectively, Andrew and Eleanor saved their money and built a small hamburger stand. It was the first eatery for blacks in Richmond, and, as the years passed, my grandparents grew it into a barbecue cafe with indoor dining. (Today, there's a monument to my grandfather in Richmond.)

As a child visiting during the summers, I would wait on customers and drink strawberry soda in that smoky cafe. Behind the restaurant, my grandparents raised animals they would slaughter for everything from ribs to chitlins. Thinking about it today, my vegan stomach turns. But back in the day, it was a source of pride knowing that my kin owned their own business. That, plus I was known to scarf more than a few pigs' feet.

Not satisfied with having just a cafe, my grandfather also learned bricklaying and built several houses. The family lived in one and rented the others to tenants. But by the time my father turned 18, he decided he wanted to see the world. He wasn't crazy about the idea of working in his parents' b-b-q joint forever, and all the successful black men he knew of in his small country town had joined the military to acquire their bling. So, my dad signed up for the Army.

Well, he ended up seeing the world, all right. He was stationed in the Philippines, Korea and Japan where he met my mother. Later, he was sent to Germany (we went with him) and several other American military bases. But my father also experienced a segregated military before President Truman desegregated it. While my dad was overseas fighting for America, America represented by the Army approached restaurants and shops near military bases in foreign countries and ordered them to either serve only its black or white soldiers--but never both at the same time. Once he returned from serving his country overseas, my father struggled to find a place to live in Washington state.

Several weeks ago, I read an article about the book Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackmon, and it triggered something my father had told me about his childhood. He'd said that after class each day, he went to work picking cotton. Naively, I replied that it must've been nice for him to have earned some money. But my father corrected me, and clarified that neither he nor the other children were ever paid for their labor. Instead, the white people who would round them up after school each day were still practicing slavery when it was clear that slavery had been declared illegal nearly 80 years before. According to Blackmon's book, slavery continued in the south until 1945--18 years after my father was born.

If you'd like to know more about my father, I still have a few copies left of Brothers and Others. Drop me an email at, if you're interested in getting one.

And, if you're not busy this Saturday, February 7, at 4 pm, you'll have the opportunity to listen to me being interviewed by Janice Malone at Please tune in to hear us discuss multiracial issues as well the Watermelon Sushi film.

I'm also anticipating an interview with playwright and Watermelon Sushi Associate Producer Jaz Dorsey of Nashville. I'll keep you posted about when the article will appear on the AAPEX blog.

Meanwhile, if you're on Facebook, join our group on the Hip Hapa Homeez page. Dude, we're hip, we're hapa, and we're homeez!

Until next week, I am...

Your Hip Hapa,

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