My first love was a Mexican named Primitivo. We met between our languages, and had to read each other’s minds to communicate well. It was a great lesson in love. I didn’t have my vocabulary to represent how terribly, deeply, incredibly smart I was, and so I was revealed in my true identity: as an insecure post-teen in need of friends and assurance, someone who hid behind the guise of smartness but who doubted that anyone could really love her. Primi did.
I was teaching literacy in Mexico in 1978, and returned to Utah after the summer was over. The last day I spent with Primi, his forehead was feverish. His father had died of tuberculosis the year before, so I realized that the fever could be a serious thing. I didn’t care. I kissed him goodbye passionately and cried as I boarded the plane.
A year later, I got married to someone else—a Gringo lawyer. With no further details, I’ll say only that it was a hellish marriage, and I ended if after four years. Sometime during that marriage, my mother gave me the last letter Primi had written me. I don’t know if she had hidden it out of fear I’d marry Primi, but I suspect so. It was unopened.
I had written to tell him I was engaged, and his letter said (in Spanish) that he knew I would marry someone else. He was in the hospital. Yes, the tuberculosis had hit him. As he was praying whether or not he could make me happy, “un hombre luminoso” came to him. I’m leaving the words as they were written. They mean “a luminous man.” The light suggested something divine. The hombre luminoso directed Primi to a vision. He saw me walking on a path with someone else. Then he saw himself walking the same path with “una morenita.” A brown woman, not a Gringa. He mentioned that she was extremely “hermosa.”
I wrote back, but my letter was returned. I never heard from him again.
When I got his letter, my marriage was failing. I wished I could ask him, “What did he look like, the man I was with?” I have a feeling the exact features would not have been discernable. The one thing Primi noticed was that the man was not him. And Primi’s wife—did he see her in detail? Again, I suspect he only identified that she was “una morenita,” and that the two of them were on a path together.
He told his vision to an old man on the hospital bed beside him, who said, “Yes, I have had visions too. Don’t tell anyone. They won’t believe you and they’ll think you’re crazy.”
This is a sweet episode in my life. I have Primi’s letter in my wedding album (the one where I’m with Bruce). I have a fantasy that someday, I’ll see Primi in a temple and we’ll embrace as old friends. We’re both in our fifties now, and I suspect he has grandchildren like I do.
As the Hispanic cultural celebration took the stage at the LDS conference center, I was aware of how deeply I love my Latino friends, and how much I wanted them to celebrate their cultures. I was simultaneously aware of some of the publicity suggesting that the gala would tell about the “great white god.” I don’t know if those old legends were presented or not. Photos I’ve seen of the celebration showed familiar cultural scenes from countries I love. But I’ve been concerned for some time that the idea of a “great white god” could imply common Mormon folklore: that dark skinned people will get white as they get more righteous. I have a black friend, Gene Orr, who asked a sister missionary in 1968 about the idea of a curse on blacks. She said he wouldn’t need to worry about it; as he abandoned his sins, his skin would reflect his purity and become white.
Oh dear. Gene’s response was simply to laugh at her. He joined the church anyway.
I have another friend with a visionary mother. The mother was white. (Please give me a better word!) The father was black. (Ditto.) As the mother lay dying, she said, “Who are those black people?” Nobody else could see anyone. Her husband told her, “I think those are my ancestors, my family, getting ready to welcome you.”
Yes, they were spirits, and they appeared as black people–and certainly as hombres y mujeres luminosos. Why should I doubt it?
One reason I doubted myself when I met Primi was because of my red hair. My classmates had told me that it was the number one reason why I could never fit in with them. I’ve heard my redheaded son say, “I think if I stay in the sun long enough, I’ll be blond by August.” My redheaded daughter has dyed her hair dark brown. Someone told my son, “Girls don’t like redheaded guys.” Thank you, World. Surely every child needs to know why they’re unacceptable.
And how about insecurities among blacks? Darius Gray had a girlfriend who disappeared during a river tubing trip. Everyone started looking for her, calling her name. An hour passed. It finally became clear that Darius’s girlfriend might have drowned. He kept looking, frantically yelling her name. Finally a quiet voice called, “Darius?” There she was, hiding in some bushes. “What are you doing?” he demanded. “My wig fell off,” she said. “I can’t stand anyone to see me without my wig.” He didn’t let his fury show, but wrapped her—head and all—in a blanket. The idea that her blackness would show in her hair was so distressing to her that she had let the others believe she had drowned.
How important is it that images of deity reflect ALL people? How important is it that all of us can look at a picture of Christ and feel invited by one who includes us not only in his heart but in his image? How important is the color of Christ? I believe He is “un hombre luminoso.” But no se debe confundir alguien luminoso con alguien simplemente blanco. (You can translate that yourselves.)
Pastor Cecil Murray says in Twice Tested by Fire, his recently published memoir: “The Afro hairdo and African garb were outward expressions of an inner awareness of a new day in which African Americans demanded that black was to be regarded as nothing less than beautiful.”
Let the Church say Amen. And Hallelujah!