To the Editor:
In 1975 I bought a round-trip ticket, with cash, to attend my brother’s funeral in Calexico, Calif. I would return to Rhode Island in three days. After arriving at El Centro Airport, I checked into my hotel, rented a car and asked for directions to Calexico where my sister-in-law lived. The clerk informed me to go 21 miles from the hotel, take a right, then another right on the divided highway; the street I was looking for would be on the left. My sister-in-law had told me her house would be the third one on the right; this is where I would find out what “Anglo” means in Calexico, Calif. Calexico is just over the American-Mexican border in southern California.
Soon I would meet my brother’s widow, Edwarda Maria Feliceon Montinez Hickey. She was American-born and a United States Air Force veteran. She introduced me to my niece and nephew. My sister-in-law, “Eddie,” said my nephew, named Robert Pierce Edwardo Hickey, preferred to be called a Chicano. My niece, Katherine Feliceon Hickey, is considered Anglo like me because of her light skin. I didn’t think that my sister-in-law would intentionally insult me so I didn’t say anything after that remark. Did I mention that I am an Irishman, white as white can be? My niece looked just like our family at home and my nephew looked just like his mom, dark skinned and of Mexican descent. We soon left for the wake of my late brother Freddie.
The next morning after returning home from the funeral service we decided to go to Mexicali, Mexico just over the border for lunch. Driving to Mexicali, the cars were moving quickly through the booths into Mexico. After lunch, returning home was a totally different story. We were stopped at the border. I was asked what country I was from. I told them I was from the United States. The Border Patrol told me to pull over and have my passengers get out of the car. The car was torn apart, the seats taken out as was the glove compartment and the trunk. After everything was put back, I was allowed to leave and return to Calexico.
While driving home to Calexico I asked my sister-in-law, “You mean to tell me you have to put up with that every day?” She told me the reason we were stopped is because I am Anglo and had Mexican looking people in the car going from Mexico across the border into the U.S. I thought to myself, wow; that was an experience I never want to have again. I didn’t like the feeling of being singled out just because I was “white.” Any American who is not African American or of Hispanic descent should have to experience that feeling I felt just at that moment.
Back at the house after looking at pictures and getting to know my brother’s family, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel because it was very late, 2 a.m. I had no idea what I would experience next. Leaving the house I tried to replicate the directions only in reverse, which the hotel clerk had given me the day before. I took a right where I had taken a left, as I came to a break in the highway I took a left, and then took a right, unlike what I did that morning. A short way down the road I ran into sand dunes and dune buggies right in front of me with big bright lights. A small plane flew over the hood of my car so close I could see the plane props turning. I stopped and
a border patrol agent came to my car and said, “Mr. Hickey, you should have taken another left; your hotel is back the other way.” He knew my name, my hotel, the rental car and the house I was visiting.
Many people didn’t believe Trevon Martin was profiled for being in a certain neighborhood and wearing a hoody, but I did. Years ago, the professional boxer, Sonny Liston, a black man, was profiled because he was in an upscale neighborhood in Cranston driving a Mercedes. When being stopped he was asked for his license, registration and autograph after the officer found out who he was. The average white American should experience this just as a learning tool. I was profiled in more than one aspect on that trip. I was profiled when I bought a ticket in Boston and paid with cash. I was profiled when I was coming over the border from Mexico to the U.S., as a white man traveling with a Mexican-looking family. I was profiled when I mistakenly went in the wrong direction into a part of the U.S. that the border patrol didn’t think I belonged. If those of us who are considered “Caucasian” had to deal with this on a daily basis, they would understand the reason behind the bill “Driving While Black.”
William L. Hickey Jr.