Just when he thought he’d heard it all, Maynard Johnny was hit with a new racist theme.
The renowned Coast Salish artist was at the Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, Washington recently when he was on the receiving end of a comment that shocked him.
“I had a tickle in my throat and coughed into my arm and this group of four white people says to me, ‘don’t cough on us you dirty Mexican, you should just go back to where you came from’.”
Johnny says he felt a familiar rage surging throughout his body.
“The old me probably would have been in a fight,” he suggests. “All that anger of being picked on came back. I still do have that rage.”
But Johnny says he was able to contain his anger and instead took the opportunity to educate the two couples that he says were in their 20s and 40s.
“I told them they were walking on stolen land and I was Coast Salish and my ancestors were here long before they were,” Johnny says.
“I asked if they noticed all the signs as they drive up and down the freeway in Washington State, all the tribal reservation signs and they responded that they were sorry, which was a good thing.”
“But I said to automatically assume I was Mexican and then to tell me to go home were racist (comments) and they needed to think about what that says about them as people.”
Johnny, a member of the Penelakut Tribe, is glad things didn’t escalate and the four people apologized, but he says the encounter is a clear sign racism is still a huge problem and things need to change.
“This is the history of my life. I’ve been picked on as far back as first grade, as a young boy who was native.
“When I was a kid I punched another kid and from that point on I had a reputation of being a tough guy, which wasn’t really true, but I got tired of being picked on. I took it as racism.”
Ironically, Johnny says, one of his first experiences with racism came from an unexpected source.
“The funny thing about that is that it was a black kid who called me a dirty Indian,” he recalls.
Johnny, who grew up in Tacoma, Washington, bristles when he hears people — including non-Native friends — suggest that racism isn’t as bad as it once was.
“Sure, we may not have white-only drinking fountains, but with (U.S. President Donald) Trump, it’s coming to the surface. It’s a dangerous slippery slope.”