A very sad thing happened on Saturday. Tai Lam, a 14 year old boy and a student of the school for the gifted in math and sciences Montgomery Blair, was shot down by a gunman who appears to have just been looking for a fight.
This story affected me pretty profoundly – I actually burst into tears when I read it. I didn’t know Tai Lam, but he lived and died right around the corner from where I grew up. The neighborhood I grew up in was a rough one. It was mainly populated by Central and South American immigrants and African-Americans. Being one of the few white-skinned kids wasn’t always easy. But the thing that united us all was our poverty and the problems it caused. And one of the first things that happens in the face of systemic poverty is violence. We had gangs. We had drugs. We had parents that were never home because they had to work long hours (mine included).
I was lucky because I was white-skinned. I didn’t fit in anywhere, except in the world outside of our neighborhood. I remember the year when my friends became color conscious (it happens around ages 11 or 12). Skin color was the defining factor, the definition of my neighborhood. You could only live on one side of the street if you were African-American. If you were Latino, you could only live on the other. Violence was frequent because posturing was everything. When you have nothing, all that’s left is your honor and reputation.
I had hoped that it had changed. It obviously has not. I think that’s why I found myself crying for Tai Lam and his family tonight.
Dear Tai Lam, I am so so sorry that you didn’t get a chance to escape the cycle. You were a Blair student – you probably would have had a bright future in front of you. It is the saddest of worlds in which poverty is created and allowed to oppress people in this way. You will undoubtedly be in my thoughts for a long time to come.
Edited To Add: Reading the comments on this post about Tai Lam also make me sad, since half of them are blaming “the Mexicans”, while complaining that “Mexicans” think that all Asians are the same. This is the damage of bigotry, folks. When does the cycle end?