I never forget my dad’s birthday; it’s December 31st, and every New Year’s Eve since I can remember we’ve gathered for dinner to celebrate the past year, the hope of the new year, and the accomplishment of my dad for making it to one year older (or one year younger as my dad likes to pretend). But there is one New Year’s Eve in particular that has stuck with me all of these years: I was very young and my grandparents were in town to celebrate with us. My grandfather was telling stories of my dad as a youngster, and he began laughing that they used to call my dad “Deduct” since he had been born right before the stroke of midnight, giving my grandparents the child tax deduction for the year, just in the nick of time. He also mentioned that my dad was the last baby born that year in Abilene, Texas, and that he’d received gifts and congratulations from the hospital staff.
I recall my dad looking uncomfortable as this story was being told, and I prodded him about it. He stopped and sheepishly said, “Well I wasn’t exactly the last baby born, but the last baby born was black, so they gave me all the presents.” He averted eye contact and got up to retrieve another glass of water from the kitchen as someone else changed the subject and the mood returned to jovial celebration.
It was one small instance, many years ago, but it has been lodged in my memory all this time. We never really talked about it again, but it’s been on my mind constantly in the past couple of weeks as we’ve been gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. My dad was six years old when the March on Washington took place, and that small sentence about the night he was born has spoken so much to me about how broken America was in 1963 as Dr. King gave his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As I joined my co-workers, our supporters, friends, and family on the National Mall last Saturday to commemorate that great day 50 years ago, I thought about how things had changed. I’m getting married in two months to a Vietnamese-American man, and I was blessed to be joined by him and his mother on Saturday as we stood side by side to fight for equality. I thought about our future children, and how blessed I am that they won’t face the discrimination present in the hospital the day my dad was born, and how thankful I am that my fiancé and I are not ostracized for our mixed-race relationship. I thought about how beautiful it was to see the tapestry of different races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations in front of the Lincoln Memorial, joining together to fight for the inalienable rights of us all.
There is still work to be done. There is still reason to march. Yes, injustice still exists, inequality still exists, and true unity has not yet been attained. But today I find myself more thankful than enraged. I am thankful to those that marched before us, because though there is marching still to be done, we really have come a long way.