My three-year-old daughter has a beautiful Afro. It’s big and round (unless she’s leaned back in her car seat and flattened it), and most importantly, she loves it. After I use the pick to roundify it, I adorn it with one of the brightly colored headbands I purchased at the Rite Aid on Adams Avenue ($4.99 for a pack of six). My daughter runs to the full-length mirror in my bedroom, where she dances and sings, “I’m a princess! Shake your booty!”
I’m overjoyed that she loves her hair. I’m also afraid there will come a day when she tells me she wishes it were long, straight, and yellow.
Yesterday, on the way to her gymnastics class at the Toby Wells YMCA in Kearny Mesa, we saw a little girl with Afro puffs on both sides of her head walking through the parking lot hand-in-hand with her mother. My daughter pointed and shouted, “Look, Mommy! She looks like me!”
And a month or so ago, on a walk through Bird Rock, we saw a black woman with a mass of curly hair ride past on a bicycle. That day, too, my daughter pointed and said, “Look, Mommy! She has hair just like you!”
I have to control an impulse to run after these people, to ask them to come and populate our world. Back in March, when two little black girls showed up at the ballet class my daughter takes at the YMCA in Chula Vista, I went out of my way to introduce myself to their mothers. I probably came off as an eager beaver.
My husband and I have had a thousand conversations about whether we should move our family to New Orleans, where he grew up and where the majority of his gigantic family still resides. Our recent move from City Heights to Eastlake has both postponed that conversation and made it more poignant — postponed because we’ve purchased a house, poignant because Eastlake isn’t exactly Diversity Central.
A few weeks ago, my husband had a talk with J, our 14-year-old son. “The only people who romanticize the ghetto,” my husband told him, “are those who have the option of not living there. If I win the lottery, you think I’m going to buy a house in Southeast San Diego, just because there are other black people living there? Hell, no. I’m going to buy a house with an ocean view in La Jolla. You know why? Not because I want to be white or because I’m not proud of who I am. I’m gonna buy a house there because that’s where the ocean view is.”
That sums up our move to Eastlake — we wanted all the view and the square footage our money could buy. And while I love the handful of options for strip-mall sushi here, I miss the taco shops and Somali restaurants around the corner from our old place in City Heights. Every option has pros and cons. We knew this before we moved.
I drive 50 miles to get my daughter to and from her preschool in Kearny Mesa each day. While she’s there, I do my work at coffee shops. My husband reminds me that I could add a useful hour to my workday (it might allow me to get the exercise I complain I have no time for) if I put her in a school closer to home, but I want to maintain a connection with San Diego’s urban experience: coffee and stewed goat meat in City Heights, craft beer and gourmet soup in North Park, green tea and mochi in Kearny Mesa.
San Diego’s populations are segregated, but some schools here are more diverse than any I saw during my years in New York. I might have happy visions of my daughter walking to a neighborhood school with friends, the way I did growing up, but the place I have my sights set on for her, once she’s of age, is a Chinese-language immersion school, where the population is 40 percent Hispanic, 22 percent white, 16 percent African-American, and 6.5 percent Asian. Her friends will be Ethiopian, Korean, and Mexican. Some will have hair just like hers.
I’m Oozing Geometry
Late one afternoon in April, I’m at my friend Delicia’s apartment in Bay Park, where she lives with her family. Out the living room’s sliding-glass, past the lime tree and jalapeño peppers growing on the balcony, stretches a wide view of Mission Bay. We’re sitting around the table with her husband, Jerry, and their two kids. The subject of school comes up.
August and Zoe, who call themselves Halfrican-American because their mom is black and their dad white, started their school years at Pacific Beach Elementary. They represented half the school’s black population.
“At Pacific Beach, there were no completely black people,” Zoe clarifies.
My daughter has yet to meet Zoe, but when she does, I know she’ll be smitten. At age nine, the girl is all drama, as hyper-talkative and bubbly as her 13-year-old brother August is careful and reserved. At one point, when I tell Zoe she’s cute, she responds, “I know.” Delicia looks at me, eyebrows raised. “See what I have to deal with?” she says.
Today, the top layer of Zoe’s hair is a combination of cornrows and straight. A few days from now, she’ll wear a curly ponytail. The last time I saw her, all of it hung down in waves.
“There were four,” Jerry says, meaning the total number of black students at Pacific Beach Elementary. “I saw the data, and there were four. All of them were half-black. The black achievement at that school was off the charts. They all got good grades. The black achievement outpaced all others.”
The family calls up memories of the other black kids: Sammy with the Afro and some kid with dreads that Zoe can barely remember. There might once have been a fifth child, Joquan…something.
August and Zoe left that school two years ago, and August recently finished seventh grade at Millennial Tech Middle School in Southeast San Diego, off Euclid and Market. He chose it for its robotics program; he’s already weighing options for high-school robotics.