September 15 kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month here in the US. I (Cara, here) am going to be honest and admit something terribly embarrassing: I didn't know Hispanic Heritage Month was a thing until I started working with Carlo. There, it's on the internet, so I have to own it. Granted, maybe my ignorance is due to living in New England, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pretty damn ashamed about it.
We couldn't think of a better way to start off this period of recognition and celebration than by sharing the introduction to Carlo Perez Allen's memoir All Bones Are White. When I first read Carlo's memoir, I fell in love immediately. Because I am an editor person, naturally, I'm a bit of a snob. Memoirs aren't usually my cup of tea, although one Christmas I did read Ham on Rye in one sitting shortly after tearing the wrapping paper from its cover. All Bones Are White was a similar experience. From page one, I was hooked. I laughed, I cried, and I self-reflected. It's funny, but the reason I had the opportunity to read the book was to help with editing. After finishing the job, that little voice in my head spoke.
I want to publish this.
I'm very self-aware. Fluky Fiction is a small company, and All Bones Are White deserved to be represented by one of the big boys. Listening to that voice, I mentioned to Carlo that if he couldn't find a publisher that we'd love to add it to our library. Either way, I wanted to see where the memoir's home would be. Never had I imagined that home would be with us. Now here we are, a week away from the official release date, with our logo on the spine. Working with Carlo has been an absolute pleasure, and I consider him not only a partner in the arts but also a friend. We value the trust he has put in us to bring his story to the world, and as cliche as this statement is, there are no words to describe our gratitude.
Enough about me. It's late. Without further ado, I'll turn it over to Carlo.
Berkeley stands across the Golden Gate Bridge on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay. It is cold and foggy compared to Mexico. Our Mexican family moved into a hillside home overlooking the bay and the whole expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1964. My Mexican mother and white stepfather had found their dream home with a million-dollar view.
I entered Berkeley High School at the height of the civil rights movement. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, ten months earlier, still loomed over America.
Berkeley had the distinction of implementing a progressive integration program, known as the Ramsey Act. It voluntarily put Black and White students together on the Berkeley High School—West Campus.
Although it was an exciting time to be in Berkeley for Black and White students, I couldn’t feel a part of it. Willie Mays, Muhammad Ali, Harry Belafonte, and Ray Charles were all I knew about Black Americans. I was an outsider. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my not White nor Black skin dressed in a preppy outfit. The whole environment seemed surreal. Berkeley was on the national radar for voluntarily integrating Black and White Americans in schools. It was a symbol of justice, and civil rights, in a BLACK and WHITE world. I was brown. I kept to myself. I was invisible. I had to remember I was in school to get an education.
Mr. Populus was my first Black teacher. He wore brown suits that matched his shaved head. He’d lost three fingers somehow and proudly displayed the remaining portion of his right hand. I stood alone at the edge of the food court during lunch watching the courtyard dynamics. Two groups split right down the middle: Black students assembled on one side, White students on the other. I didn’t sit. I didn’t belong. I ate, standing up, wondering what group I would be sitting with had I grown up in Berkeley. Either side would have been beautiful. Students on both sides seemed so happy while I felt out of place—again. Why did we ever leave Mexico? I wasn’t interested in making friends. I was pissed.
Mr. Populus walked up to me and asked why I wasn’t engaging with anyone. I told him I was new to the school. “You’re a pretty cool cat. You’ll fit right in, Charles,” he said. I had not heard the term cool cat. Scaredy-cat? I took offense. My grandfather was a bullfighter. A picture of him—suspended in air, ballet-like pose, toes together, above a charging bull, sticking banderillas in the shoulder muscles—hung prominently in my abuela’s home.
“I am not scared,” I muttered.
“Make friends while you can. Look around right now. A lot of people are curious about you. Look at people checking you out.” He pointed his stubby hand to one side, and some White students looked over. He gestured to the other side, and a few Black students looked up.
“I don’t belong,” I said.
“That’s not a good feeling. I have some advice for you, Charles,” he said. “Somehow, this whole experience, this experiment, here is going to go into our history books. Black and White students are integrating vol-un-tar-i-ly while the rest of the country is fighting it. He held up his hand. “I was going to write a book, but as you can see, it would be rather difficult.” I looked carefully and saw burn marks on his hand that receded up his sleeve. “Now you, on the other hand, seem very capable of writing a book with a unique perspective. And I’m going to give you the title: All Bones Are White.”
“All Bones are White,” I repeated. The realization that this integration experiment was intended for all of us to look beyond skin color. I felt better. I had my first Black friend in Mr. Populus.
“Yes, only a cool cat like you can write it,” he said and walked away. I watched him stroll through the Black and White student body.