I came to this country on October 30th, 1976. Being one of only a handful of non-white children, I had the privileged opportunity of being initiated into the American mainstream by being pummeled by snow balls, asked why I was so dark, and my all-time favorite, being called a camel-jockey. Yes, a camel-jockey! How could I tell these children that I had never even been close to a camel before let alone ride one.
The fact that I had a small nose ring at the time, didn’t help me blend in either . Today I would have fit in with the bohemian, hippie type crowd but in those days having a nose ring was considered strange not fashionable. Children would look at me quizzically and ask, “Why do you have a ring in your nose?” Needless to say, I had my parents let me take it out.
While all the American girls had beautiful flowing blond or brunette hair, my mom would put my hair in two long braids on the sides of my head, very much like Pippi Longstocking, and stick a bindi on my forehead. How could I escape answering the question, “What’s that dot on your head?” It was futile to point out that it wasn’t on my head. It was on my forehead!! I survived without any scars or trauma, thank God, and in fact I can laugh about it today.
I still remember my very first Halloween. My mother had decided to dress me up as an ”Indian Princess.” Dressed in one of my Indian chaniya-cholis* , with my midriff showing, I looked like Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin . Only thing I was missing was a veil so I could hide my face. The following year my parents splurged and let us buy facemasks. My brother and I would improvise and put together the rest of the costumes from old clothes or from brown grocery bags. One of my favorites, ironically, was being an American-Indian. It was fun making a fringed Indian vest and my very own feathered headband.
Halloween on the Northwest side of Chicago in the 1970’s was different. Parents were at home passing out candy while the kids trick-or-treated. We were out for hours and came home with literally a pillowcase full of candy. Those to me were times of innocence and goodness, before people figured out how to contaminate candy or stick needles in apples to hurt children. Those were also less commercial days when people did make their own costumes. I remember my friend Andi’s mom stitched adorable costumes for her and her sister which could probably be sold at Pottery Barn Kids today for $100.
Every year the PTA held a fair during the different holidays. These were simple fairs with everything from cupcakes to planters homemade by the PTA moms. My parents usually gave us no more than $.40 but we were still able to get something. I remember buying cupcakes for 10 cents apiece. Today when my son has a fair at his school, he needs at least $ 5!! Also, I don’t recall any mom wearing plastic surgical gloves so as not to taint my cupcakes. There were no allergy alerts. And no one cared if the toy had small parts that could be swallowed. Somehow we survived . For better or for worse, times have changed. I still like to look back to a time when life was less complicated, less commercial and childhood was pure and fun……………
*Chaniy choli-a long flowing embroidered skirt worn with a short top