As readers of A Certain Point of View, Too know – all too well, I’m sure – this year is full of many “anniversary dates,” some of which are personal and others which are shared, either because they’re historic events or are related to pop culture.
Because 2022 – especially this time of year – marks the half-century of my return to the United States after living in Colombia for nearly six years, 1972 is my “Year Zero” reference point for all that followed. The fact that this event marked the end of my “Colombian childhood” and the resumption – or beginning? – of my American one is key if you want to understand why I’m so 1972-centric.
In May of 1972, my mother and I lived in an apartment complex called El Portal in the small city of Sweetwater, Florida. At the time, my older half-sister Vicky was living in Bogota and had no intention of joining us in South Florida. I wasn’t enrolled in a Dade County Public Schools elementary because (a) we still did not have a permanent residence, and (b) it was almost the end of the 1971-72 school year anyway.
I dimly remember that Mom enrolled me in what I think was a private school in Hialeah so I could at least get used to being in a bilingual (but mostly English-speaking) environment. I don’t recall the name of the school or the address; I do recall that I got along well with the director and that she gave me a model of a B-17 Flying Fortress when the school year ended in late June of ’72. I also recall that I was content to be at that school; I wasn’t stuck in that apartment in Sweetwater while Mom looked for a house in the Westchester area, plus I was around kids my age and in an environment where I could still speak Spanish and not feel self-conscious about it.
May 18, 1972 fell on a Thursday, so it is likely that I was at that Hialeah school, in class, trying to absorb as much English as I could but still feeling apprehensive about it. I also missed my relatives in Bogota, although I was excited about living in Miami and being in a warmer – if somewhat humid – climate.
I sometimes wish I remembered more details from this part of 1972. I do have fragmentary memories from the late spring of 1972, such as the fact that American forces were still fighting in South Vietnam and the “casualty count” of the week was still a “thing” on TV news broadcasts. I also remember that my mom had to take me to the doctor a few times to check on how well my face was healing from the dog bite I suffered a few weeks before. But most of what I “know” about 1972 – such as the return of Okinawa to Japan after 27 years of U.S. occupation and Arthur Bremer shooting former Alabama Gov. George Wallace during the latter’s presidential campaign, both of which occurred on May 15 of that year – I learned about later.
Interestingly, today’s the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert Lee Johnson, a U.S. Army sergeant who was convicted in 1965 of selling classified information to the Soviet Union. Johnson was serving a 25-year sentence at United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg when his son, Robert Lee Johnson, Jr. – a Vietnam veteran – stabbed him in the chest at the visitor’s center. When he was asked why he killed his father, the younger Johnson said it was a personal matter.