I'm going to share with you a very personal story. A story I have never told anyone from my childhood . a story I have not told anyone even my own parents. It is a story about the discovery of race from a child’s perspective.
Superman was my favorite Superhero as a child. I was introduced to him by the Richard Donner films and Christopher Reeve. He used to be a big part of my life. I had everything Superman related. clothing shoes undies everything. One of my earliest memories of going to my grandmother's house was seeing the Superman photo she kept over her desk and the Superman glasses she used to serve drinks in when I used to visit. We connected through our love of the character. When she passed away, I took the last remaining glasses to remember her by, to remind me of our connection.
One Halloween in the 80’s I really wanted a Superman costume. back in those days costumes were real cheap. They used to be made of plastic that would make you sweat and the masks didn't allow for ease of breathing. Obviously knowing this my Mother was hesitant about getting me one at the time. Eventually she got the costume for me.
In those days my Mom had large mirrored walls in the dining room that stretched all the way up to the ceiling. I remember being so excited to finally put the costume on in front of it . When you are a child you can't help but feel by putting on a costume you would in some way be empowered like your favorite hero. I had asthma as a child. I wanted to be Superman. A guy who went out and saved people from danger, who was impervious to most everything, A man who was strong, Someone who didn't have crippling asthma like me.
I remember putting on the costume and being critical of its construction. It did not have cool red boots, it was less a costume and more a plastic tarp with Superman's suit printed on it. I remember thinking, OK it doesn't have red boots but I have red sneakers. Finally, I put on the mask. I stood there for a long time looking at myself in the mirror. What I saw scared me. Superman with horrifying dark cave like eyes looking back at me. I remember running to my Mother frightened and scared at what I saw an not being able to explain what was the matter. all I could do was cry. What I saw was my skin color and eyes looking through Superman's eyes. The pale white skin color of the mask and the darkness of my skin made Superman look like a ghoulish creature. In that moment I realized I could never be Superman. Superman did not look like me and the mask made it worse. Can you imagine trying to explain something like race when you don't fully understand it ?
As a child the question of race never came up. I went to a school that had children of all colors. Being Hispanic it is normal to have family that looks black, white or any other color. That is our world. I didn't have many friends but my closest friends were white, black and Indian. I never thought of the world in terms of color I thought of the world as just people. People came in different colors just like crayons. Just because a crayon was a different color didn't make it any less a crayon than the others.
I took the costume off, packed it back in the box and had my mother put it away in a closet where it sits to this day. I still find it difficult to look at it.
It is important to see heroes that look like everyone especially for children. It's important seeing people that look like you doing amazing things. weather it be a superhero an athlete an artist, write or a musician. It all counts toward inspiring the new generation to strive for greater possibilities. We live in a world of color and what we create should reflect that.