Trzyna.info : : Personal website of Thaddeus C. (Ted) Trzyna
Trzyna.info : : Personal website of Thaddeus C. (Ted) Trzyna
By Ted Trzyna
Copyright © 2021 T. C. Trzyna. Citation: Trzyna, Ted. "Fairness & bigotry." Ted Trzyna. trzyna.info. Posted May 2021
As I write this, our country is taking a fresh look at racism and other forms of discrimination, so let me go into a little detail about things that happened while I was growing up in the 1950s in South Pasadena, California. This is meant to complement other parts of a memoir about my high school years. [Background on my high school and Scout troop 342] I've stayed with things that happened during that time to me or my friends or about which I have direct knowledge.
The lens I looked through
Each of us sees fairness  through our own particular lens at a particular time. This starts with the family we are born into. All four of my grandparents, as well as my father, were born in the Polish lands  and immigrated to the United States between 1890 and 1912. [More on family background]
My parents were university graduates and professionals. We spoke English at home and with my aunts and uncles. My father spoke Polish with my grandparents and sometimes with his siblings. My parents didn't want me to learn Polish because they said they were against "hyphenated Americanism," a term from around the First World War used to disparage Americans who displayed an allegiance to a foreign country. It was more likely they didn't want to be seen as hyphenated Americans. I think they were especially sensitive to this because my father's sister Irene had been secretary to the Polish Consul General in Chicago until Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939.
Both sides of the family were nominally Christian but as far as I know only Aunt Eleanor, my mother's sister, belonged to a church, which was Roman Catholic. We were unlike the typical Polish American family at the time, which was descended from Polish peasants, lived in a Polish American neighborhood, and had lives centered on Roman Catholic parish churches.
My father had an aversion to the Roman Catholic Church. This came from his own father, Piotr (Peter) Trzyna, who was from Galicia, the part of Poland that had been controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire during the Partition of Poland that lasted from 1795 to 1918. The Habsburg Empire and the Roman Catholic Church were strongly connected. Grandfather Piotr was active in the Polish Socialist Party, which worked for Polish independence, so he saw the Church as an enemy. Dad inherited this attitude and it stayed with him his entire life. In fact he was uncomfortable entering any church regardless of denomination.
Grandfather Piotr's hero was Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935), a co-founder of the Polish Socialist Party and later a military commander who was seen as the father of newly independent Poland. Ethnic minorities made up a third of the country's population. As its de facto head of government, Piłsudski worked for a multi-ethnic Poland and opposed discrimination against minority groups including Jews. His arch-rival for decades, Roman Dmowski, wanted a Poland with a homogeneous Polish-speaking, Roman Catholic population. Grandfather's foot-high statuette of Piłsudski was passed down to me and has a place of honor in a bookcase in my living room.
Until the eighth grade I went to a primary school at the northwest edge of Chicago where all the kids were of European origin. We knew each other’s “nationalities,” and those with northern European heritage tended to look down on those whose roots were in southern Europe. Just about everyone learned to play an instrument. For Poles like me, and the Germans and Russians, this usually meant the violin. Italians were made fun of because their instrument of choice was the accordion.
My father was very sensitive about anti-Polish remarks and what he took to be such. This included complaining about teachers who called me "Teddy T" rather than saying or writing our family name, although the teachers gave other kids with difficult names the same treatment. The only direct experience of discrimination I remember was when I was waiting in a line in a school hallway behind my classmate Diane Cashion. She turned around, smiled, and said "You're a Polack" (a mild ethnic slur). This probably came from her parents.
Jews fit in pretty well, as I remember. My best friend was a Jewish girl, Manuela Ditz. She wasn't a girlfriend yet, but we could see that coming. Besides being in the same classes at Onahan School, we both played in the Northside Childrens' Orchestra. My instrument was the violin; she played viola and cello.
Twice Manny and I were chosen to be in the Illinois summer youth music "camp" held at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The kids at the camp were a diverse lot, at least for 1950-51. There were African Americans and other boys and girls of color, but the main divisions among us seemed to be geographic or cultural: urban, suburban, rural; metropolitan Chicago, downstate. These were reflected in different accents and expressions. At first there was a little taunting in all directions, but playing music together has a way of quickly erasing such differences.
I never saw Manny again after moving to California, but we corresponded until we were both in graduate school, both of us in political science, she at the University of Chicago, me at Berkeley. I regret that we lost contact. Searching online for her name a few years ago I found an obituary. This made me realize I needed to reconnect with special friends from the past.
Fairness and discrimination in South Pasadena
My family moved to South Pasadena in 1952 when I was 12. In junior high and then high school almost all the kids were of European origin, but no one seemed to care about “nationality.” Since I was sensitized to such identities, I knew that Farkas was a Hungarian name, Tripodes was Greek, and so on. Rarely was I asked about the origin of my Polish surname, Trzyna, although high school English teacher Miss Farrar designated me to take the part of Polonius in an out-loud reading of Hamlet. (Just now I took a look at the script. Polonius has a lot to say, so that was a lot of out-loud reading, but it included such famous lines as "To thine own self be true," and the ridiculous "Oh, I am slain!")
With one exception there were no African Americans in the schools I attended until I went to college. The exception was a girl in the high school class behind me who lived in servants' quarters on the property of a wealthy white family in San Marino, the next town to the east. Until 1955 South Pasadena and San Marino shared the same high school.
In the summer of 1955, Susan McClain, an African American girl who lived across the city line in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, was refused admission to South Pasadena's municipal swimming pool, which was called the Plunge. The incident was widely publicized and became a stain on the town's reputation. Decades later when I mention to Californians of my generation that I grew up in South Pasadena they often bring it up. For that reason I need to explain what happened in some detail.
It turns out my high school classmate Carol Berman, who I mention below in a different context, was a witness. Carol recently wrote to me: "I was working there that summer, that very day. I was back in the girls’ dressing room mopping the floor and I heard some cross words at the desk. I could see the desk from where I was standing and I saw that some folks were prevented from entering. I believe the young woman at the cash register (and I remember she was young) said, 'I know you are not residents of South Pasadena. You cannot swim here.'”
The city had in fact adopted a regulation limiting access to the Plunge to residents. It was a popular place for kids to hang out during summer vacations and was often crowded; for that reason I rarely went there. The regulation was based on concern about overcrowding and evidence that many swimmers were from out of town.
The American Civil Liberties Union took the city to court, accusing the Plunge staff of having excluded Susan McClain from the pool because of her race in violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. The facts are set out in court papers: "In the afternoon of August 2, 1955, John H. Abbott, a Caucasian residing in the city of Los Angeles, took his two daughters and plaintiff, a 9-year-old Negro girl, also a resident of Los Angeles, to the plunge. He purchased and received four tickets of admission. At this point the cashier, defendant McColgan, noticed plaintiff and asked Abbott if she was in his party. He said, 'Yes.' McColgan told him, 'We couldn't let them in because we have a policy that we reserve the right of use of the pool to residents.' She testified she knew plaintiff was not a resident because at that time there were no Negro families living in South Pasadena. She then called the assistant manager, defendant Skraba. Skraba asked Abbott if he were a resident of South Pasadena and Abbott said, 'No.' Skraba said, 'Therefore, according to our policy, you must be excluded because you are nonresident.' Abbott, his two children, and plaintiff were denied admission to the plunge."
The ACLU lost the case in Superior Court and took it to the state Court of Appeal, which affirmed the lower court's decision: "Plaintiff was not excluded from the plunge because she is a Negro. She was excluded, like the Caucasians who were with her, because she was a nonresident. If she had been a resident of South Pasadena, under the uncontradicted evidence, she would have been admitted. There was no unreasonable or unlawful discrimination." 
I asked Carol to comment, not only as a witness to the 1955 incident but as an anthropologist and UC Berkeley professor emerita who has written extensively on race relations: "They ignored the fact that the only way the cashier 'knew' to ask the folks at the cashier window if they were from out of town is because one person was black. A decision today might be different. The times! And what if the folks were residents and brought a black friend? Would the cashier have let them in?"
In high school I never noticed any hostility against people of Asian origin. There were only a few students with Asian heritage. Among my classmates were a Chinese American, a Japanese American, and an exchange student from Vietnam. A Japanese American family was active in Boy Scout Troop 342. The father, Tommy K. Matsuura, gave me my first summer job watering and cleaning up at his nursery on Huntington Drive. Early each morning the chairs around the coffee stand served as a social center for Japanese gardeners stopping in to pick up a few items or just chat. Tommy told me about his family being interned during World War II under Executive Order 9066 and how he volunteered and served in the Army. He visited Japan on a Boy Scout exchange before the war and gave me a Japanese Scout neckerchief slide from his trip. I still have it. A patriotic American proud of his Japanese heritage.
The only systematic ethnic discrimination I was aware of had to do with kids of Mexican heritage, and it troubled me. Félix Gutiérrez, SPHS ‘61, who I got to know in Boy Scout Troop 342, became a professor of journalism at USC and talked in a recent interview about what happened when he arrived at South Pasadena Junior High School in eighth grade: “They welcomed me. My name was strange, so they had trouble pronouncing it, but that’s boyhood. But I heard a group of guys, who I thought were friends, and they were talking about ‘the beaner.’ When I got up to see who they were talking about, I found out they were talking about me. It was a WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) community, so you would hear jokes, putdowns, racial slurs, name calling … Anyone who wasn’t a WASP wasn’t quite an outcast, but kind of on the edge. … I didn’t hear anything from adults, but from kids, it was always a put-down or a joke. ‘You gotta get across the border.’ ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Watch out, I just saw border patrol.’” 
This was ironic. He didn’t say so in the interview but through his father Félix is descended from Californios, the Spanish-speaking people who lived in California before it was annexed by the United States in 1848. They didn't cross over the border; the border crossed over them.
Could a Jew be “representative of the community”?
This is about an incident that happened while I was in high school, but I learned about it only a few years ago when I visited Carol Berman Stack, a high school classmate who is still a good friend, at her home in North Carolina.
South Pasadena didn’t have many Jewish residents, although our next-door neighbors were Jewish and there were Jewish boys in Boy Scout Troop 342. I wasn’t aware of discrimination, but such things usually happen behind the scenes. There were still restrictive covenants, agreements that prohibited the sale or rent of real estate to non-white and certain other ethnic groups, but insofar as they applied to Jews, I don’t think they were being enforced, even “socially enforced,” i.e., by real estate agents or prospective neighbors. When my parents bought our house on Laurel Street, I read through the documents out of curiosity and came across a restrictive clause that included “Hebrews.” This was ironic because we were buying the house from a Jewish family.
Although I don't remember any obvious incidents of discrimination locally, I could feel an undercurrent of opinion that South Pasadena was a bastion of white upper middle-class Christian culture and should remain so.
Each year the local Kiwanis Club sponsored two or three South Pasadena High School students in the summer study abroad program of the American Field Service. The school chose the students. In 1956 those selected were Carol Berman, who was Jewish, and Ted Schmitt, a non-Jew.
Carol relates what happened: "Ted went to Spain. I wanted to go to Spain but AFS said it was too close to World War II and there was still anti-Semitism in Spain. So they decided I would go to Denmark, which was wonderful. I stayed with a fantastic family in Copenhagen.
"At that time the Kiwanis Club of South Pasadena donated a few hundred dollars for each AFS student. I don’t remember if the funds went directly to AFS or helped the students with airfare, etc. That part is fuzzy. But the local Kiwanis Club told the high school principal they would not contribute the money for me because sending a Jewish student was not representative of South Pasadena. [The principal was Elmer J. Erickson, who had joined the staff in 1930 and served as principal from 1940 to 1962.]
"Dr. Erickson called me into his office and told me what the Kiwanis Club had told him. He said the teachers would raise the money for me. I was grateful, as I really wanted to go and my parents could not afford to pay.
"When Ted Schmitt and I returned from Europe at the end of summer Ted and I were asked to give a talk to the Kiwanis Club. This was traditional; all the AFS students they sponsored were asked to do so each year.
"I asked Dr. Erickson whether I should give the talk in light of the Kiwanis Club having refused to contribute. By then he and I knew one another well and had a good relationship. I had worked with him as Commissioner of Activities in the student government. He suggested, just suggested, that I should be high-minded and give the talk, but it was up to me.
"I talked this over with my dad, the ethicist in the family, a philosopher-bread truck driver, and he thought I should do it. But if I did, it should be a really excellent talk. I had taken terrific slides -- I still have them -- and he helped me work my talk around the slides, around the people I met, what I learned about the Danish way of life, and what I learned about Danish parliamentary democracy. The family I stayed with in Copenhagen told me they paid higher taxes than we did for dependable services such as schools and health care. I ended my talk with a beautiful sunset and said, 'What I love about Denmark,' quoting a slogan my Danish family gave me, is that the country 'takes care of its citizens from the womb to the tomb.'
"My talk was on a Wednesday evening. Dr. Erickson called me into his office the very next morning. 'Carol,' he said, 'I would love to hear the talk you gave last night.' My slides and talk were in my locker, as I had brought them in to share with a class. Dr. Erickson said, with a lot of patience, 'Good, I will get a slide projector.' Well, he had me give the entire talk to him. In the middle of my presentation he stopped me for a moment and told me that it was a beautiful talk. 'But go on,' he said, 'I want to hear the entire presentation.' So I did, slides and all. When I got to the last sentence he heard me say that I respected how Denmark '... takes care of its citizens from the womb to the tomb.' 'Ah,' Dr. Erickson said, 'That’s why they called and told me you were a communist!'"
Carol was very upset. Not only because she was not a communist but because calling her a communist reflected an attitude back then linking Jews and communism. Those were the years when the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities was conducting investigations and holding hearings in Los Angeles about alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and organizations suspected of having communist ties. Although some such activities certainly did exist, they weren't common, and the committee's careless methods and unfounded accusations had destroyed peoples' lives. In 1959, former President Harry S Truman called the committee "the most un-American thing in the country today."
High school principal Erickson did the right thing in raising funds so Carol could go to Denmark in spite of the Kiwanis Club's refusal to pay. But was this enough? In retrospect she thinks the higher ground would have been to reject Kiwanis Club sponsorship for exchange students, instead of just compensating.
A Holocaust denier from South Pasadena
A boy whose great grandparents settled in the 1870s in what became South Pasadena, whose father served for a time as the mayor, who grew up on the next block from us, went to Troop 342 summer camp one year, and graduated from South Pasadena High School in 1965 moved to Europe and became a serious Holocaust denier. The numerous books he has written, edited, or translated on the subject are for sale online. According to his website he formally renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1984, and in 1998 he was convicted by a German court of "incitement to racial hatred." 
“Do you belong to a church?” they asked
During this time, I had an experience that was insignificant compared to the bigotry some of my friends had to endure, but it struck a nerve. I was given a hard time about religion by a bunch of small-minded adult volunteer Scout leaders.
My younger brother Tom and I weren’t raised in any church, although our parents both came from nominally Christian traditions. They encouraged us to study religion, talk with them about it, and make up our own minds. I believed in God but was not a Christian.
As a family we weren't against churches; it’s just that we didn't like being told we had to go to one. In Chicago when the mother of Jimmy Grow, a boy my age who lived three houses down the block, told me I couldn't play with Jimmy unless I attended a church, my father walked over and gave her a piece of his mind.
The final step in getting awarded the higher Scout ranks was to go before a panel of adult leaders at the Boy Scout district level. I was up for the rank called Life. The men who interrogated me were from Los Angeles and seemed to have something against South Pasadena, or more likely had a problem with Troop 342 because it was sponsored by a Dads’ Club and not a church, which was customary. “Interrogate” seems the right word since this was on the second floor of the Highland Park Police Station on York Boulevard.
Did I belong to a church or other religious congregation? Did my parents? (My Dad had driven me there and was sitting in the audience in a back row. He showed great restraint!) I wasn’t aware of any such requirement, I said, only a belief in and reverence toward God. I had done my homework. There were whispered consultations in the stuffy room, and I was given the rank in tones that made it clear I had stepped over a line.
A few years later my brother had the same experience when he was getting his Eagle Award. It was in a different place but those on the panel were the same or similar self-righteous individuals. He almost told them off.
On another page I relate a positive experience about religious differences with Scout leader Frank Stoney.
Promoting fairness and understanding
Many SPHS and 342 alumni have worked hard to promote fairness and understanding among ethnic and religious groups and fight discrimination against women. Here are three examples I know of personally:
>> Carol Berman Stack (SPHS ’57), an anthropologist and emerita professor at UC Berkeley who now lives on the East Coast and teaches part of the year at Princeton. Much of her career has been devoted to research and teaching about African Americans. Her books include All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community (1974); and Call to Home: African-Americans Reclaim the Rural South (1996).
>> Félix Gutiérrez (SPHS '61 and 342), an emeritus professor of journalism at USC. He is co-author of Racism, Sexism, and the Media: The Rise of Class Communication in Multicultural America (3rd ed. 2003) and Minorities and the Media: Diversity and the End of Mass Communication (1985) and has written numerous articles on Spanish-language and Latino media. From 1990-2001, in senior positions at the Newseum, Freedom Forum, and Gannett Foundation his responsibilities included research for media diversity exhibits for the Newseum in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2008.
>> My brother Thomas Trzyna (SPHS ’62 and 342), an emeritus professor of English at Seattle Pacific University who saw a need to teach the literature of African, African American, and other ethnic writers and summed up his experience in an essay, “Teaching While White: Reflections on 40 Years Teaching Ethnic Studies.”  His recent books include Pornography and Genocide: The War against Women (2019); and Exceptional: The Autobiography of Fletcher Johnson, M.D. (editor, 2020). Johnson, who married our neighbor Jeanne Holmberg (SPHS '64), was the first African American to play basketball in the European Leagues, was an NBA star in the '50s, and became a cardio-thoracic surgeon; his story is about the integration of sports as well as racism in the medical system.
I very much appreciate comments on earlier versions of this essay from Carol Berman Stack, Larry McHargue, Félix Gutiérrez, and Tom Trzyna, but the usual caveat applies: I am solely responsible for the content.
1. "Fairness" is the term used in a standard manual, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Christopher Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman, Oxford University Press, 2004). The authors define fairness as "the product of moral judgment -- the process by which people determine what is morally right, what is morally wrong, and what is morally proscribed." I think fairness is a better concept than tolerance because tolerance opens the door to tolerating intolerance. The philosopher Karl Popper called this the Paradox of Tolerance (The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945).
2. In this context, "Polish lands" refers to territory occupied during the Third Partition of Poland from 1795 to 1918 by Russia; the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and Prussia, which became part of Germany following German unification in 1871. Poland regained its independence in 1918.
3. The full document is online: SUSAN McCLAIN, a Minor, etc., Appellant, v. CITY OF SOUTH PASADENA et al., Respondents. [Civ. No. 22181. Second Dist., Div. Three. Nov. 22, 1957.]
4. "In Conversation with Felix Gutierrez." Tiger, August 18, 2020. Felix F. Gutierrez. "The House That Used to Be in Mexico." Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2020.
5. cwporter [dot]com. Accessed March 8, 2021.
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