When I was in fifth grade, I had a crush on a boy named Jake Rubenstein. He had reddish blond hair, a dotting of freckles across the bridge of his nose and he ran faster than all of the other boys. Word on the blacktop was that he liked me back, and although I was extremely shy around boys and preferred to worship them from afar rather than talk to them, my heart was filled with innocent joy that a boy actually liked me!
While playing handball with my best friend Kelly, I told her that I thought Jake was cute, and she said, “You can’t like him—he’s Jewish!”
“Jewish?” I asked, confused. “What’s Jewish?”
She informed me that it was his religion, and sometimes he wore a black beanie on his head when he went to church. She told me he couldn’t have a girlfriend who wasn’t also Jewish, so I should just forget about liking him.
“Unless you’re Jewish,” she told me. She stared at me across the handball court. “You’re not, are you?”
“Not what?” I asked.
“Jewish, dummy!” she said, bouncing the red rubber ball several times on the grimy asphalt.
“I don’t think so,” I answered. “I mean, our family doesn’t go to church or anything.”
“Well then,” she said, “you’re definitely not Jewish, because I think you would know if you were.
“Oh, okay,” I told her, a little sad, yet relieved at the same time that I had found out this important information before anything went too far. Whatever Jewish was, Jake was probably not the boy for me. That day, I decided to stop liking him.
It was the first time someone told me I shouldn’t like someone because they were different than I was.
Shortly after I graduated from college, I sat my mother down and told her that I wanted to marry Rene, an undocumented, uneducated Mexican Indian from Oaxaca. Rene and I met at a restaurant in Santa Monica where I was a waitress and he was a cook. While she liked Rene very much, my mother told me that I shouldn’t marry him because he and I were just too different.
“Jess, honey—you need to reconsider this whole marriage idea,” she said. “The language barrier and cultural differences between you and Rene are just so vast—it’s going to make your marriage too difficult.”
Even though her feelings were expressed out of love and concern for me, thank God I was bullheaded enough not to listen to her.
When I called my grandmother back in Baltimore to tell her that Rene and I were getting married, her first reaction was, “But Jessie—your babies will be brown!” I wasn’t angry with her. In fact, I remember laughing about it with Rene. I understood that she was from a generation where it was unfathomable to think about marrying outside your own race. Her comment didn’t bother me one bit. And yes, all four of my babies turned out to be the most beautiful brown color imaginable.
First society tells us not to love someone because they are a different than we are. Now, as is the case of same-sex marriage, they tell us not to love them because they are the same. The funny thing is, no matter what we look like on the outside, the love we feel on the inside is what truly matters, and it’s always the same. And what gives me, you, the church or the government the right to tell someone they can’t marry whom they love?
Change often takes generations to come about, but it always comes. Let’s not waste any more precious time. Love is love and it’s time to finally be fair about it.