Mom, me & 9/11 – Ella Saunders-Crivello
This is my story, but it is also my mother’s story.
My mother grew up in a rural town of Quebec, Canada, born in 1966. Her birth parents, two teenagers, connected only once, for what we presume to be a one-night stand. The father black, and mother white. In this small town, interracial marriages, and therefore children, were essentially forbidden. In America, it wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court, in the Loving v. Virginia case, ruled marriage legal across racial lines. In any case, the social pressure and widespread discouragement across North America forced my birth grandmother to give my mother up.
She spent the first 7 months of her life at a Catholic hospital, rejected and considered in her own words “almost half human.” Nurses alternated hugging, cradling and feeding her and the other babies as they each were up for adoption. She was unrooted.
By the time my mother developed a worldview, it was wholly white. She was brought into several foster homes, her caretakers and nuns at school educating her…all white. She “spoke like a white girl”. She literally ate white bread. She tells me now race was out of sight and out of mind. Yet, she recalled always being the girl teased about her “chocolate skin and Afro.” Fashion became her refuge. My mother was recruited at a young age of fifteen to become a model.
Suddenly, with a face caked of makeup, her dark freckles hidden, she was “beautiful”, her whole world shifted. In spite of her upbringing, my mother built a successful career in modeling. In fact, my dad first saw my mom on a billboard in the streets of Montreal. They started dating and moved to NYC shortly after.
Both of my parents were young creatives and were intentional about their choice to raise me in NYC. My mom, a French language native, learned English alongside me in the first few years of my life.
Shortly after my birth, my mom came out as gay.
My parents separated when I was 4.
It began a long childhood of moving apartments and spreading my time between two houses. My parent’s mutual choice for my school was rooted in so much love and hope for my future. My school in the West Village, was very progressive and private. It became our safe haven for acceptance, consistency and community.
I was with this community, at school, the morning of September 11th, 2001.