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Juneteenth by G. Pensiero
 

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  • I was born in the evening, on Father’s Day, 1983. My dad called his old man, who was on vacation in Cocoa Beach, Florida at the time, and said, “Pop, happy Father’s Day. I’ve got a present for you.” I was the first grandchild.

    My grandfather was the first person in my family to die. On his deathbed, my Irish nana asked him for his Italian family’s famous meat sauce recipe. He said, “Anne, if you don’t know it by now, you’re never gonna get it.” Even as a child, I could tell that he was a man of many flaws, but he was also a gregarious bear of a man. Big Nick, everyone called him. Of all the people I have known who have died, he is the one who visits me with the most regularity.

    I was born in Hackensack General Hospital, which is mentioned in the hit song, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” by recording artist Billie Joel.

    In it, the narrator of the song, presumably a slightly fictionalized, younger version of Billie Joel himself, gives the middle finger to the conventional, predictable, suburban aspirations of society. In 1977, you could not have a hit record that included the lyrics, “hey ma // fuck you // I do whatever I want.” Things have at once progressed and deteriorated since then.

    I was born on Juneteenth, a portmanteau of the word June and the number nineteen. Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates a belated freedom. It’s also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day.

    In Texas, after the end of the Civil War, news traveled slow. A number of slaves were kept slaves long after the emancipation proclamation’s official entrance into law on Jan. 1, 1863. The announcement didn’t reach Texas until June 19th, 1865. They had been free for nearly two years and hadn’t known it. So, this news traveled especially slow. Extra slow. But eventually, they were freed.

    Eventually, we are all freed. My grandfather, Big Nick; Billie Joel and his Anthony; and through injustice and oppression, against all odds, even the slaves of late-1800s Texas. We will all be freed, in time.
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