introspection,  politics,  racism

Tai Lam

A very sad thing happened on Saturday. Tai Lam, a 14 year old boy and a student of the school for the gifted in math and sciences Montgomery Blair, was shot down by a gunman who appears to have just been looking for a fight.

This story affected me pretty profoundly – I actually burst into tears when I read it. I didn’t know Tai Lam, but he lived and died right around the corner from where I grew up. The neighborhood I grew up in was a rough one. It was mainly populated by Central and South American immigrants and African-Americans. Being one of the few white-skinned kids wasn’t always easy. But the thing that united us all was our poverty and the problems it caused. And one of the first things that happens in the face of systemic poverty is violence. We had gangs. We had drugs. We had parents that were never home because they had to work long hours (mine included).

I was lucky because I was white-skinned. I didn’t fit in anywhere, except in the world outside of our neighborhood. I remember the year when my friends became color conscious (it happens around ages 11 or 12). Skin color was the defining factor, the definition of my neighborhood. You could only live on one side of the street if you were African-American. If you were Latino, you could only live on the other. Violence was frequent because posturing was everything. When you have nothing, all that’s left is your honor and reputation.

I had hoped that it had changed. It obviously has not. I think that’s why I found myself crying for Tai Lam and his family tonight.

Dear Tai Lam, I am so so sorry that you didn’t get a chance to escape the cycle. You were a Blair student – you probably would have had a bright future in front of you. It is the saddest of worlds in which poverty is created and allowed to oppress people in this way. You will undoubtedly be in my thoughts for a long time to come.

Edited To Add: Reading the comments on this post about Tai Lam also make me sad, since half of them are blaming “the Mexicans”, while complaining that “Mexicans” think that all Asians are the same. This is the damage of bigotry, folks. When does the cycle end?


  • Ellie

    I went to school with Tai Lam. I knew him, but not well. He was the most amazing kid. He never had a frown on his face. Tai was innocent and he was killed by the violence of others. God bless Tai and I’m glad this has touched your life. And the people that killed him were from the MS-13 therefore making the El Savadorian, not mexican.

  • Mary

    Tai Lam was my BEST friend. I grew up with him since we were kids. But then i had moved to Fresno,California. Ever since i heard about him, lying dead, i bursted into TEARS ! i missed him so much. And i felt really bad for his family. He was one sweet kiddo. Honestly, i wanted to say that without him in my PAST, i wouldnt have made it this far through HAPPINESS. i follow him, like having BIG SMILES ON MY FACE. i MISS YOU TAI. and everyone else ! Pleaseee don’t forget me ! I LOVE YOU<3′

    • Mae McDonnell

      Oh WordPress! Julie, could you be so kind as to tell me how you got the notification? I was doing a little clean-up of old posts (the hazard of having an blog for eight years is that inevitably, you grow…) and I imagine that’s how this was sent out again.

      It was sobering to me to look at these old posts and think about how Tai Lam would be a young man now – not much younger than some of my coworkers. My mother, of course, I think about all the time.

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