Strangers In Our Own Land

By John M. Williams

It was a very warm morning.  The sun was shining and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.  I was eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant and rummaging through the local newspaper.  I had reached the classified section when an attractive ad caught my attention.  It stated the following:

Wanted immediately, college graduates, all majors.  Our company has immediate openings in advertising, sales, public relations, writing categories, and numerous other challenging business fields.  We are well known for our management trainee program.  We welcome all applicants.  Please see Mr. Hill at the El Dorado Dude Ranch, Suite 17, between the hours of 9:00 A.M.  and 4:00 P.M., Mon- Wed.  We are an E.O.E
[1]   firm.

The El Dorado Dude Ranch.  I would pass it as I was leaving town.  I pondered:  Should I try it?  Will Mr. Hill be the one, or will he be like all the rest?  Is it worth it?  I decided I would try it. 

I finished my breakfast and took the elevator to my hotel room.  I shaved, showered, and packed.  I took the elevator to the main floor, paid my bill, got
into my car, and drove to the El Dorado Dude Ranch.  Half an hour later I arrived for my interview.  The time was 9:30.  I had little difficulty finding
Suite 17.  I knocked and a pretty, petite, pert, blond-haired secretary wearing a two-piece brown-beige suite answered the door.  She had green eyes and a welcoming smile. 

“Are you here to see Mr. Hill?” she asked.

“Yes I am,” I replied.

“Will you please come in and fill out an application form?  Mr. Hill is busy, but he will be with you directly.  Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“No thank you,” I answered as I walked into the room and seated myself on a large, green, comfortable sofa.  The sofa seemed appropriate, for this was one of the largest reception offices and one of the most plush that I had ever been in.  I completed the application form and waited patiently for Mr. Hill. 
I picked up the current copy of Life and started leafing through it.

Soon I discovered I was troubled by the same thoughts that had disturbed me earlier in the morning.  Will he too discriminate?  Will he too deny me the
right to discover what I can do?  If what I have experienced isn’t some form of discrimination, then what is it?  Will he judge me for what he believes
I am instead of what I truly am?  Thirty minutes passed.  Finally the door leading into another room opened, and two men walked into the room where I was waiting. 

The taller man, whom I correctly assessed to be Mr. Hill, extended his hand to a young man a few years older than I and said, “I shall call you in a day
or two and inform you of my decision.  So long for now and good luck.”

The young man replied, “Thank you very much.  I shall be expecting your call.”  The young man then turned and left. 

Mr. Hill turned to me and said, “Will you please step this way.”

I nodded, smiled pleasantly, and proceeded ahead of him into the other room.  It was a large room, much louder than the outer office.  The aqua-colored
carpets covered the floor from wall to wall.  Numerous dark blue sofa- chairs were spread throughout the room.  A mahogany bar was to the left of the door as you entered.  In the far right-hand corner of the room was a black convertible couch.  In the farthest corner of the room was a huge desk made of oak, with several phones and many papers scattered on top of it.  I walked slowly to the desk trying to compose myself.  I waited until Mr. Hill had reached the other side of the desk, and then I extended my hand to meet his.

“Good morning young man.  My name is Mr. Hill, and what is yours?”

“I am John Will-Wil-Williams.”  A surprised look appeared on Mr. Hill’s face, almost as though he had unwillingly been exposed to a contagious disease.  That same look, I thought to myself.  I’ve seen it dozens of times.

“Please be seated Mr. Williams.”

“Thank You,” I said.  As I sat down, I examined Mr. Hill very closely.  Physically he was a big man, standing well over six feet and weighing over 200 pounds.  His blue shirt, a dark English Edwardian suit, and a dark tie with a diamond stick pin seemed very expensive.

“Mr. Williams, I see by your application that you want to get into a writing field. Have you had any previous exposure, or have you had anything published?”

“Yes sir, I-I-I have.”  Again that grotesquely nervous look appeared on Mr. Hill’s face.  I told myself, Relax- don’t rush it. 

“Do you have something that I could see Mr. Williams?”

“I do Mr. Hill.”  Then I reached into the black leather brief case I had with me and pulled out copies of some articles and some poetry that I had written
and that had been published in various places.  “Here-here you are si-sir.”

Mr. Hill was hesitant in accepting my writings.  He made me feel uneasy.

A pleasant smile appeared on his face as he read what I handed him.  When he finished, he returned my application.  “Very impressive.  You have talent young man.  I like what I’ve read and I like what you’ve done.  Tell me please:  why do you want to work for the company that I represent?”

This was the big question.  My answer and the way I answered would, I hoped, determine whether or not I got the job.  I sat there calming myself.  Five
maybe 10 seconds passed before I answered the question.  I finally said, “Mr. Hill, I want to write and I am hoping that your company will give me the
training and the experience that I need.  A-a-a, I’m also looking for a position with a company that will give me security and a future.  Your company
a-a-a-a offers these things.  Finally, I want to settle down.”  The answer pleased him but my stuttering did not. 

At this point, Mr. Hill seemed uncertain as to what his next move or even his next sentence would be.  His eyes told me that.  Finally he said, “Mr. Williams, the business world is very rough and very competitive.  Many times vocal speed and personal confidence are extremely important in making and successfully completing a business deal.  Also, in dealing with people, especially in the business world, it is important that the customer be and feel as relaxed as possible.  I’m afraid that with your stuttering problem this would not be possible.”

The hatchet had been lifted and a head was about to roll.  My head.

He continued, “A great many problems can and will arise in this business because of your problem— some of these problems may arise within my own office.  Therefore, I won’t hire you now or in the future.  You can understand that, can’t you?”

His reply was no different from countless others that I had heard across the nation, whether I was applying for a job in the business world or in state
and federal agencies.  Businesses and state and federal agencies all shy away from stutterers. 

“Mr. Hill, I’m not applying for a job as a salesman or a public relations representative. I’m asking that I be considered for a position in which I can
develop my writing skill and a-a-a-at the s-s-s-same time be of some value to your company.  Tha-that’s not asking too much is it?”

“Young man, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference where I placed you.  You would still have to talk to people, even if they were just office people who were
working with you.  I know this would be very tough on you.  Believe me, I’m doing what is best for you.”

Not for me, but you probably think that I suffer from some sort of mental deficiency, I said to myself. “Mr. Hill, let it be tough.  Have you ever thought
of the fact that I went through high school and college with this?  Have you ever thought how rough it’s been these past two years since I finished college?  Still I’ve managed to survive.”

“I can see that son and I admire you, really I do.  But I still won’t hire you.”

Having heard this I stood up to leave, and then I decided to say what was on my mind.  “Mr. Hill, first admiration does not feed my belly when I am hungry or clothe my naked body when I need clothes.  Nor does you r admiration prevent me from getting blisters on my hands or backaches when I have to work as a ditch digger because you and others like you won’t give me a decent job, even though you must know I could probably be of value to your company.  I saw the heinous look on your face when you a-a-a fir-first a-a-a heard me st-st-st-stutter.”

“I believe you were asking yourself, what makes this young man stutter?  What makes me stutter isn’t as important as what ke-e-keeps me st-stuttering.  It is people like you who allow it to continue.  People like you, who refuse to give people like me a chance to prove what we can do.  You-you say that I lack confidence.  I say give me the opportunity to rebuild it.  Treat me and others like me as though we were people and not as though we were freaks or as though we had some sort of mental disorder. You and others like you think stutterers suffer from some sort of mental disorder and therefore are not ca-ca-capable of thin-thinking for themselves.  All of you are dead wrong.”

“Finally, Mr. Hill, physically you are a very big man, and you are probably very rich and have a lot of power.  But from where I am you look very small. 
Another thi-thing.  If I were you I wouldn’t con-con-continue to use the letters E.O.E. in your ads, for someone might sue you for false advertising.” 
Mr. Hill was stunned, and I turned quickly and walked out of his office and out of Suite 17.  I didn’t know what he would do and I didn’t really care.

I reached my car, got into it, and put my head on the steering wheel.  I wanted to cry.  But he and the others like him are not worth a single tear.  I
started my car and headed out of the El Dorado Dude Ranch parking lot.  Somewhere, someplace, someone has to give me a break soon.  With this in mind, I drove west.

***

It had been nearly three hours since the incident.  I was somewhere in the desert.  Where, I did not know.  The high sun made the heat almost unbearable.  The temperature must have been near 100 .  I had not seen a single soul since I left the gas station two hours earlier.  I was near panic.  The desert was the same to me wherever I looked.

Directly ahead of me I saw what I thought were either three animals or three people.  I slowed down and when I reached the objects in question I discovered, to my overwhelming satisfaction, that they were people.  I stopped the car.  “Hello and how are you?”

There was a silver-haired old Indian and two boys about eight and 10.  They looked harmless so I said, “Would you like a lift?”

The old one stood motionless and appeared reluctant to accept my offer.  However he gave in, probably due to the silent appeal on the faces of the little
ones. 

When the three of them had seated themselves, I said, “Where are you going?  The desert is no place to take a walk.”

The old Indian looked at me with stern, inquisitive eyes and said, “We are Apache.  The desert is our home much more than it is yours.  We are not lost.”

How the old one knew I was lost I didn’t know.  “Where are you going and how long have you been traveling?” I asked.

“I am taking my grandsons to the whiteman’s school, which is not far from here.  I must find out why they cannot go to this school, which is only 20 miles
from their home.  Instead they must go to the reservation school, where they are taught the ancient customs of our people and the history of the whiteman.  The reservation school is nearly twice as far from their home and twice as hard for them to reach.”

“C-c-cc-can you tell me-me where I am?”  I asked.  There was a burst of laughter from the boys, but a fierce look from the old Indian shut them up immediately. 
The old one looked offended.  I didn’t say anything. 

“You are about 40 miles from the state border.  If you continue on this road you will come to the whiteman’s school house.  When you reach the school house continue on the road that bears left, and it will lead you directly to the state border.”

“Than-thank you very much.”  Then turning to the boys I said, “What are your names and what grades are you in?”

“I am Jimmy Falls and I am in the sixth grade and this is my little brother and he is in the fourth grade,” the taller one replied. 

“Sir,” I continued, “Why won’t they allow your grandsons to attend the whiteman’s school?”

“I am not certain,” the old man replied.  “But if my grandsons are to live in the West, where the majority of people are white, then they should be allowed
to attend the whiteman’s school— or so say my son and my daughter.  I am seeking the same answer to the same question that you just asked.

“As time continues, our customs, our language, and maybe even our people will either fade away or die out.  If we survive, then, we will have to come off
the reservations.  The same reservations that your people put us on 50 to 100 years ago.

“Every day the bus passes our house, but it does not stop to pick up my grandsons.  They are entitled to the same education you are.  Your own laws say that.  However, in this country for too long the Indians have gone to the Indian school and the blacks to the black schools.  Your people forget very easily that this country was once ours and that we live here as people and not as wild dogs who must be penned up on a reservation and separated from your race as though we didn’t exist.  We are proud.  Still, my grandsons must be exposed to a world apart from their own, so say my son and daughter.”  Having said this the old Indian remained silent for a long time.

As we were nearing the schoolhouse I said to the old man, “I wish you the best of luck, an-an-and- I-I-I hope you get what you want.”

With what looked like a single tear rolling down his cheek the old Indian turned to me and in a steady, firm, determined tone said, “I will do my best to
see to it that my grandsons and their children do not stay strangers in their land much longer.  Do you know what it is to be a stranger in one’s own land?”           

Touched by the old man’s sentiment and feeling a single tear rolling down my cheek, I replied, “Yes I do.”

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Equal Opportunity Employment

Reproduced from http://www.atechnews.com/newsanalysis/strangersinourownland.html