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My travels with the Wong family

My experience is that those of us who believe—albeit with qualifications—in multiculturalism don’t always have the opportunity to put theory into practice.
[additional-authors]
October 24, 2014

My experience is that those of us who believe—albeit with qualifications—in multiculturalism don’t always have the opportunity to put theory into practice.

A transplant from Los Angeles to San Diego, I lived in a confirmed bachelor’s not-so-splendid isolation, with my housekeeper, Patty, and Maltese, Toby, before the Lord smiled on me. The smile came in the form of my association with the cross-border Wong family, who have enriched my observation of multicultural families beyond seeing them at Southern California shopping malls.

My computer consultant and the paterfamilias, 40 year-old Chris, is a blend of Latino and Chinese, born in the UK where his father  served in the U.S. Air Force. Chris’ great grandfather was shanghaied in the 1800s from China to the U.S., where he worked on the railroads up-and-down California before becoming a farmer and dying at a relatively young age in Mexico. Chris’ grandfather, a trucker, mostly transported produce across America, but once delivered  a Christmas tree to Ronald Reagan. His wife, Amor, is a U.S.-born Latina, who is punctilious about good manners and whose roots in Mexico hint at the exotic, though she is unsure whether her great grandmother really was partly Jewish. 

They started successfully building a family in San Diego until they were wiped out financially by the 2008 Crash. Ever resilient, they have relocated at least for a few years in Rosarita Beach, living at the ocean for a fraction of the rent, while maintaining close economic and families ties with relatives in San Diego.

The miracle of the Wong family, which has won my indelible affection, is their six children, ages 2 through 12. Their names  (from oldest to youngest) are Genesis, Jireh, Mission, River, Liberty, and Eternity. Chris has been a lay minister for several decades, and the children are being brought up as believing but tolerant Protestants, with great mutual love—but Internet access closely monitored.

Almost four year-old Libby has mood swings as tempestuous as summer showers, and is already extremely opinionated as well as intellectually sharp. Six year-old River combines perhaps a touch of autism with an artistic streak. Eight year-old Mission plays the piano and is already “macho.” Twelve-year-old Genesis (“Juby”) has her law career mapped out.

Their parents don’t play favorites, but I can. Although I love them all, my special delight  is Jireh (from the Hebrew for “provider”), who’s a 10 year old with a sweet nature, precise vocabulary, musical talents, budding gourmet tastes, race car enthusiasm, and soccer prowess. I am trying to teach him some history—not an easy subject to teach his generation. While on a recent visit to Disneyland, he conned me into riding  with him the “California Screamin” coaster in a front row seat. I am still recovering.

Though living in San Diego, I haven’t visited Mexico in twenty years. With some trepidations about cross-border developments (about which I have written in a scholarly vein elsewhere), I have now agreed to accept the Wongs’ hospitality in Rosarita Beach.  We just returned from a Sunday jaunt on the American side to Temecula where we visited my friend, Selma Lesser (now 95 years old), whom I wrote about previously in the “Jewish Journal” and who lives on her vineyard and winery. It was my pleasure to introduce the children to the wonder, at the other end of the spectrum, of great age combined with the wisdom of experience.

Multiculturalism is all well-and-good. I telecommute as a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance is Los Angeles which promotes it. But abstract debates about the merits, pro and con, are no substitute for contact with the real thing.

Mercifully, the Wongs and I rarely discuss politics (though Jireh, I am sad to report, recently exclaimed “politics stinks!”—to which I did not have a good reply).  But we do discuss family trajectories, with my being accorded the honorary title of Tío  Heraldo. 

My association with the Wongs—an all-American as well as multicultural family—keeps alive my hope that we really do have a future worth investing in and, if necessary, fighting for.

*Born in New York but educated as an historian at UCLA,  Harold Brackman, a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal's Museum of Tolerance,  is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, forthcoming).

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