You know Kensington has always been quite a mixed bag of people, even back in the 60’s when I was growing up here.
Oh, let’s see….. There were the McNally’s who lived next door to me, Um, they were Irish.
The O’Callaghan’s who lived across the street from me, Um, they were Irish.
The Brennan’s who lived down the block…Irish
The Reilly’s who lived in The Margaret Court across The street from me… What? Irish again
The McKay’s who were our downstairs tenants for over twenty years…. Irish too?
Now wait one minute here, you said Kensington was a mixed bag, even back in the 60’s.
Well, there were the Compitiello’s…Italian
The Savino’s…. Italian
And of course my good friend Glen Gruder, Jewish.
And then there was me… Spanish and Polish.
Do you know what it’s like constantly being questioned about your last name?
“Your last name is Lopez?” “Why are your eyes blue?” “You don’t look Spanish” “Oh, your tall for a Mexican”
Well, I’ll clue you in on a little dark secret, when I was in Spain back in 1996 to visit my cousins for the first time; they all had blue eyes and blonde hair. And they were all at least six feet tall.
“Your name is Lopez, and you don’t know how to speak Spanish?”
Imagine having the last name Lopez and failing Spanish class at Ditmas JHS back in 1971. I mean the teacher was appalled, and most of the Irish kids got 95’s too.
“My father died when I was seven and my mother is Polish, so no one really speaks it at home”
Well, that line, although very sad, was very true. And it usually brought a shocked look to the face of whatever Spanish teacher I had. And it was always my first line of defense after I failed a Spanish test.
Maybe that’s why I just squeaked by with a 65 on my final Spanish exam in 1972.
Oh yes, Mr. Fine, my ninth grade Spanish teacher at Ditmas JHS. He insisted on always speaking to me in Spanish even though I had no clue what the hell he was saying. And years later I saw him rummaging through trash cans on Church Avenue talking to himself.
I really hope I didn't cause that, because he really tried his best with me, he really did.
So here we are in Kensington 2008. I guess you should add a zero to the amount of different nationalities that live here and make it an even 300. And the nice thing about it is no one ever feels out of place here in Kensington. You can be from anywhere and you’ll always fit in.
You know what, I bet you if a space ship crashed at McDonald and Church and a Martian walked out of it, nobody would even notice. That’s how diverse this place is now compare to the 60’s when I was growing up. And that’s how anyone can just fit in without feeling out of place.
And that goes for my two kids too, Because they are a combination of Spanish, Polish, Mexican and Irish.
And let me tell you something, my wife is already teaching them both how to speak Spanish. No, there's not going to be any blank stares from Spanish teachers this time. And no "your name is Lopez, and you don't speak Spanish".
No, I have it covered this time Mr. Fine, and now I understand what you were saying.
Even if it's thirty six years later. And even if my mother was Polish.