Mabel Interview

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Conquering Prejudice

Interview and commentary by
Mabel Parra

As I open the door of the classroom my heart starts to beat rapidly. I am nervous and preoccupied; I want my guest's presentation to be successful. After my classmates sit down, I introduce Mr. Nick Baca. I have known Mr. Nick to be a generous and humble person. Over his life-time, he has served both his family and his community. I admire him because, even through the rough times in his life, he has maintained a generous, open heart.

Nick Baca was born in 1917 in the little town of La Cabra (the goat) in the state of New Mexico. Mr. Nick describes his town as "a beautiful town where there weren’t any cars or pollution to worry about." He grew up there with his four brothers and three sisters in the little town. As young children with mixed ancestry (part Apache-part Spanish), they had to suffer the prejudice of their classmates.Nick tells us how strict his parents were at that time: "When someone came to our house, my mom would send us to get a glass of water. We had to stand still in front of the person with our arms crossed until the person was done drinking the water. If we dared to move my mom would hit us with a wooden stick after the person had gone."
Mr. Nick went through many hard times, he remembers how the depression era affected him and his family members. During that time his family lost most of their belongings and valuables. These possessions were sold in order to purchase food. As a result Nick was forced to drop out of school and to start working in the fields with his father. This was necessary in order to help his father support the family. Nick describes the time when he was working on a farm, where he earned a box of eggs, a quart of milk and twenty five cents. He had a deal with his boss, in which his boss would not tell Nick's father that he was earning twenty five cents. "Twenty five cents in those days was a lot of money, I would go out and buy a big piece of hamburger for the whole family and still keep the change for myself." However, his generosity was so immense that he would not keep the money left over, instead he would share it with his family.
Some of the rough times that Mr. Nick experienced were very unpleasant. As he began to speak to us, he slowed down and choked up. The expression on his face showed a pain that hadn’t been erased. Nick described the discrimination that was going on at that time in his little town. At school he and his friends would eat under the trees to hide from the other students. The other kids ridiculed Nick and his friend because their lunches, consisting of rice, beans, and tortillas, were different.

"I grew up in a state where there was discrimination, and as a kid I couldn’t understand why all that was. I couldn’t eat with the majority people, and the barbers refused to cut my hair."

As a kid it was hard to grow up in an environment of prejudice. Mr. Nick held up his hands and described how one day he realized that "where ever there is majority of people, they will always rule the minority." Nick said throughout his lifetime the white people were "the majority."
One of his experiences in dealing with the majority occurred one day when Nick and his friends were at a restaurant eating and having a good time. Nick wanted to hear music, so he got up and walked towards the juke box. Suddenly a big crowd of white males stopped him and would not let him play his music. The crowd threatened Nick and forced him and his friend to leave the place. Nick and his friends couldn’t do anything since they were three in numbers compared to ten.
Nick also encountered discrimination in his work place. He was working on a farm for a wealthy white man. One day he requested a day off so that he could go see his sick grandmother. Nick’s boss denied his request. Nick said he was going no matter what. As Nick began to leave, his boss threatened to turn his name over to the Draft Board. A short time later, Nick was drafted.
Nick said that, during WWII, many Americans were drafted in this way. Local Boards were run by local businessmen during this time, and some used the threat of the draft against their employees. Nick claimed that he was drafted because he defied his employer. In those days, married who had children or men who worked in the fields were not drafted. However for Mr. Nick, he was drafted to war even though he was working on a farm and was married. Nick explained that it was hard to go to war and leave his family. It made him sad to think that there was a possibility of never coming back and never seeing his family again.
Nick served willingly, he was proud to serve. He spoke of witnessing many awful things during his time over seas. One of the worse memories he described was when he and other soldiers were liberating Jewish prisoners from concentration camps at the end of the war. He said that he had never seen such horrible conditions.

"I witnessed the suffrage and the horrible health conditions that the people had to endure. They didn’t have enough food and they were forced to live in rooms that were full of adults and children who were sick and dying. It is sad to see what humans can do to other humans."

Nick expresses the happiness he felt when they helped those people to get out of those conditions. This is a good example of Nick’s caring personality.
In 1957, Nick and his family decided to moved to Mountain View, California to look for better opportunities. Three months later, Nick got a construction job that paid much more that he had ever earned. He never went back to live in Colorado. Nick spoke of the big changes that he witnessed in the San Francisco Bay area. When he arrived, there were acres and acres of fruit orchards and farms. He raised his hand to point in the direction of the El Camino Real, a local thoroughfare, saying that many of the major highways are still located in the same places.
After working for years, Mr. Nick retired. Then he devoted more of his time to community service. He has always enjoyed helping people. Mr. Nick participated in a number of activities to get food from the community to give to the poor. Having experience in landscaping, he volunteered to build the Senior Center garden. There he helped grow free vegetables for senior citizens in the community. Sometimes at Halloween, Nick would give pumpkins to elementary school children who visited the garden. Every time the kids would go to the garden, Mr. Nick would always welcome them with a big smile. This was one of the happiest times in Mr.Nick’s life. For his intense and dedicated community service, Mr. Nick has received several awards from the City of Mountain View and the Chamber of Commerce. Even with recognition such as this, Nick remains his humble and caring self.

Smiling and about to continue on his journey through more recent experiences, Mr. Nick is interrupted by my reluctant announcement that it is time for class to end. Nick cheerfully thanks us for listening to his story. A strong wave of applause follows; it lasts for a long time. After Mr. Nick's heartfelt presentation, many students left with smiles. Some stopped to thank him for his inspirational story telling and to wish him well.

Constructed with the assistance of Learning Community student Alana Salom


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