I’m from Tyler, Texas, and I attended Robert E. Lee High School, home of the Rebel football team. I was a proud Rebelette on our drill team. We had the largest Confederate flag west of the Mississippi. We had a Rebel Guard that dressed in Confederate uniforms and shot the cannon every time our Rebels scored a touchdown.
I was steeped in Southern pride and loved our traditions and our heritage.
I was a junior in high school when our schools began integrating, and I remember the first African American girl who attended our school. What must she have thought about all our Southern pride? How could she claim this school as her home and her safe haven?
It was during this time that the first inkling of another way of thinking and being in the world began to take hold. It was a long process for me to go from embracing all things southern (even at the expense of those things that caused pain to others) to understanding that it is a much better choice to celebrate the things that draw us together rather than the things that divide us and that represent the pain we have caused others.
Fifty years ago we changed the name of our football team to the Red Raiders, and just last year the high school was renamed Tyler Legacy High. It was not without great controversy that these changes were made.
So it is with this background that I share my sadness that Gilroy has installed an El Camino Mission Bell in downtown Gilroy. As cities and states all over the country are recognizing the pain caused by these reminders of oppression and domination and are moving toward a kinder and more inclusive representation of the citizens who are our neighbors and friends, my hope is that Gilroy will also recognize this. I hope our city will become one that focuses on how we welcome and embrace our citizens rather than place monuments that remind us all of the pain we have caused.
As other California cities are removing their mission bells or making the decision not to install them, Gilroy has moved ahead with installing this symbol of great pain to our Native American friends. I hope at some point, we will reconsider and remove this symbol of oppression.
I ask this in honor of that young African American woman who was forced to attend Robert E. Lee High School and who had to endure signs and symbols of the painful past of her heritage. I regret that we caused her pain, and I want to do my part to ensure that we don’t continue this practice.