Friday, May 2, 2014

Rant #1,199: Race To the Finish

As we close the week out, this has become a week to remember.

Race is still at the forefront of the week's news, as an NAACP leader has resigned over the Donald Sterling flap.

There are plenty of twists and turns left in that story, so stay tuned.

But here, I am going to talk about race in a different way, through the eyes of a kid of 10 or 11 years old, which I was back in 1967 or 1968.

I lived in a racially diverse community in Rochdale Village, South Jamaica, Queens. As I have said many times, the community was designed this way, and was surrounded by one of the oldest black communities in the country.

This is how I grew up, and while the community, as it was designed, didn't last long, it still gave me a perspective that many of my peers who grew up elsewhere could never have.

Anyway, with that perspective in hand, I found out yesterday that Larry Ramos died on April 30.

Who is Larry Ramos, you ask?

Larry Ramos was one of the guitarists with one of my favorite rock acts growing up, the Association.

That group had numerous big hits, and Ramos, although not an original member of the band, played on many of their most popular tunes after joining them in 1968, including "Everything That Touches You."

Now, let me tell you my story about Ramos and how his stature in the band touched me way back when.

Ramos, a prior member of the New Christy Minstrels, was Hawaiian, and was of Asian extraction.

Growing up in a racially diverse area didn't mean that all races were represented in that area, and no, there were no people of Asian heritage in our community that I knew or could recall.

I have asked this question of others in the community, and if there were people of Asian background living there at the time, they were certainly few and far between.

Anyway, when Ramos came into that band--and since there was no MTV back then, it was through numerous television appearances that I noticed something "different" about this group--well, to me, he stuck out like a sore thumb, but in a most positive way.

Sure, you saw plenty of white faces in rock bands, and as for soul, that was the domain of the black community.

For this kid who grew up on television, the visual thing was a very big deal, and when I discovered that Ramos was a member of the Association, it really opened up my eyes to the fact that Asians could do more than be waiters at the local Chinese restaurant or be servants, like actor Sammee Tong's portrayal of Peter on "Bachelor Father."

They could rock too.

Ramos wasn't the first person of Asian background to be in a rock band, but for awhile, he certainly was the most prominent. I also noticed that Dino, Desi and Billy featured guitarist Billy Hinsche, but I think at the time of their greatest prominence, I was still a bit too young to notice.

But when Ramos joined the Association, and they were hot as could be, with lots of hits, I noticed.

And yes, I also think it was his name. One Larry to another, I think that made him stand out to me even more.

And he often wore those big hats, and maybe that was his own personal statement. He wanted you to sit up and notice, and I can say that I did.

So even all these years later, I still noticed.

I saw them in concert a few times, and Ramos still stood out, and when seeing them, I seemed to always focus on him.

And when I heard he had passed, all these memories came back to me.

Yes, when you are 10 or 11 years old, you really are pretty innocent, although growing up where I did, I think I was in touch with things perhaps a little more than my age would have it appear to be.

So I wish Larry Ramos safe passage to heaven, and another piece of my childhood is gone, but certainly not forgotten.

Thanks for the memories.

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