AT FIRST IT WAS INSULTING, BUT IT BECAME AN ONGOING ISSUE AND SOME OF IT VERY HARMFUL. NOW I WANT TO MOVE AWAY FROM THIS COMMUNITY THAT I HAVE PUT SO MUCH INTO…
Asian and Polynesian American woman, Age 35
9 years Benicia resident
When my husband, who is Black, and I first moved here, we were expecting our second child. We were excited to be in Benicia. It was a good town with good schools, and our children would grow up safely and with fair opportunity. So we thought.
Our early racial experiences were merely insulting and disrespectful. For example, my husband and I stopped in Safeway to pick up some groceries. We didn’t exactly get dressed up to go shopping. We had been busy with the move, and we were wearing old clothes splattered from the day’s painting. As we walked from aisle to aisle, we noticed a White clerk in her 30s following us around. After it became clear she had her eyes on us, we looked directly at her. “Can I help you find anything?” she stammered. It seemed odd. One afternoon a few weeks later, my husband was working on our car in front of our home when he was questioned about whether he belongs in the neighborhood by a White male police officer. I was concerned, but my husband laughed it off and said it happens all the time. A couple of weeks after that, he was pulled over on East 5th Street and Military for a tail light issue. The White woman officer was clearly on high alert as she approached the car as though my husband was going to attack her. I had never experienced this kind of response in an officer for a fix-it concern. Was it because my husband is male and Black?
I began to notice our neighbors eyed us cautiously when I walked our dog with my husband, but were friendly when it was just me. One couple regularly locked their car with the remote while watching from their front window as we walked by their house, but this only happened when my husband was present.
I want to share that both of us are very involved in our community. We pour our hearts and energy into caring for those in need. We deliver food to the homebound, including the couple with the car remote. My family started a non-profit organization and is the fiscal sponsor for the beloved local program, Food Is Free Benicia (now Food is Free Solano). We helped make it possible for the program to expand during the COVID crisis, feeding thousands more people in need. I also work for SafeQuest, helping any Benicia and Solano County survivors of rape, domestic violence, and human trafficking. I am dedicated to the local Soroptimists, a community service organization. My husband helps with all of these endeavors, and personally works to uplift anyone he meets.
Over time things got uglier, not better. About five years ago, while we lived at Burgess Point, the tires of each of the 32 cars parked in the designated residents' parking were slashed during the night. Our complex was primarily occupied by People of Color, some of whom were recipients of Affordable Housing. Although the police did open up an investigation, there was no follow up or compensation for victims. And there were no rent leniency offered by the property management company or safety precautions installed, such motion sensor lights, alarms, or cameras, even though we asked. While sharing this tragic story with a friend who is a lifelong Benician, she mentioned that she had heard our complex commonly referred to as “Nigger” Hill. I was shocked.
The final heartbreak came when my daughters were affected. Last May, my two girls were outside of our house training for their gymnastics competitions in hopes to be ready when sports events resume after the pandemic. Someone called the police on them. My husband and I were literally a few feet beside them, making sure they were safe.. When questioned by the officer, we explained what they were doing, but the police department publicly listed the call on its online report blotter as a citation for truancy. This was at 4pm in the afternoon while it was still daylight. It was only because of my community work and connections that I was able to reach the Police Chief and the unfounded truancy listing was eventually removed. My beautiful girls, ages 9 and 10, who are also heavily involved in community service, still don't understand what they were doing “wrong” and why the police officer would report them.
And then, as my nine-year old daughter and I walked past the shops at the corner of East Second and Military on our way to the sanctioned Benicia Youth justice rally, a White Man in his 30’s came out of a shop and threatened us. We were walking near an older Black woman and her grandchild, when he started shouting, “I’m going to Kill You “N****s!” It was terrifying. I called the police, and waited near Starbucks for 20 minutes, but no one came. It took a FaceBook message to the police from a White friend to get them to respond. That was two hours later.
I want to love it here. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of heart. My husband and I care about our home, our neighborhood, and our community, and we put a lot of time and energy into cultivating relationships and providing resources for those in need. I have some wonderful friends here of all backgrounds, and I’m so grateful for their love and support. Through our work, we have developed connections and resources, and yet, because of the color of our skins, we continue to be treated with disrespect, disdain, and even hatred. Every person in our town, whether or not they are involved with charity work or not, deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity. I hope my story helps others to realize how hurtful racist behavior is, and how much it mars our beautiful community.