Times Past

Ugly Cambria incident shows some still deaf to Dr. Martin Luther King's message

The Almena-Lee family, from left, Lucas, Montserrat, Mateo and Frank.
The Almena-Lee family, from left, Lucas, Montserrat, Mateo and Frank.

“Heine! Kraut!” A gang of third-grade boys shouted at me.

I was running as fast as my 5-year-old legs could carry me as dirt clods whizzed past my head. It was early September 1945, marking my first day in kindergarten. The boys had found out my name was associated with the German word for war as in “blitzkrieg.”

I obviously survived what my father, who had a similar experience in Ohio in 1917, called “a lesson.” The hard learning part was that not all Americans recognize that we are a nation of immigrants and we need to live as a community.

My father’s words came back to me when I read of the experience of Cambria pharmacist Alvin Ferrer. Alvin operates Cambria’s only pharmacy. He has 15 employees. He happens to have emigrated from the Philippines with his family at the age of four.

Recently a lady mistook him for Chinese and told him that she “did not appreciate his coming into town.” His mailbox was broken and ugly messages left in it.

The incidents have drawn the attention of many concerned citizens along the North Coast. They have invited the Anti-Defamation League to organize a panel discussion on Feb. 5. I’ll be a member of that panel and will inform readers of the time and venue.

The incident demonstrates that the message of Dr. Martin Luther King has not yet penetrated the hearts and minds of some of our fellow Americans. Personally, it’s why Liz and I support the Martin Luther King Scholarship Barbecue, San Luis Obispo’s unique response to the tragic death of Dr. King in 1968.

More than 100 graduating seniors from San Luis Obispo High, Pacific Beach High, and Mission College Preparatory have benefited from the scholarships. It often makes a critical difference in the lives of those students.

Frank Lee was awarded a scholarship in 1989. Frank was born in Hong Kong. He immigrated with his family to Stockton in 1978. He began to “hang out” with a multi-racial gang. Frank’s mother’s allergies led to a move to Santa Maria and then to San Luis Obispo. In SLO High, chemistry teacher Bruce Tedone was “extraordinarily helpful” in pushing Frank into being a real chemist.

Frank used his scholarship to help finance his entry into Cal Poly as a nutrition major. I encountered Frank while serving as faculty adviser to the Chinese Students Association. Frank and his friend Manual Ching were co-captains of CSA’s famed Lion Dance Team.

I helped mentor Frank as he moved from his bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in Dairy Science. Frank made the front page of the Wall Street Journal when he created a long-lasting cheese that could be used in place of tofu because it did not melt.

Frank went on to receive his Ph.D. in Dairy Science from the University of Vermont in 2001. He did consulting in Beijing on dairy extracts that may be used in “green” or environmentally-friendly construction. He married Montserrat Almena, a dairy scientist from Galicia, Spain in 2004.

Today he serves as technical and production manager at Vermont Natural Coatings, a cutting-edge research and production firm. He’s making a major contribution to America.

The MLK Scholarship Annual Chicken Barbecue takes place on Super Bowl Sunday. You can “take-out” or “dine in” on Sunday, Feb. 2, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Elks Lodge, 222 Elks Lane, SLO. The ticket price: $10 per meal.

The 57th annual Chinese Student Association New Year’s banquet will be Saturday, Feb. 1, in Cal Poly’s Chumash Auditorium. Doors open at 5:45 p.m., with dinner 6:30 p.m. $12 for adults, $10 for kids 12 & under, $5 entertainment only. Call Brandon Takahashi at 714-907-7589 for reservations.