“Hey Daudov!” called the team’s offense tackle, Brad Dietrich. “I saw your mom wearing one of those scarfy things. Don’t tell me you’re a Muslim or is your mother just plain ugly.”
Deni laughed and didn’t say anything, but T-Bone spoke up in Deni’s defense. “Hey don’t be an ignorant ass; our brother here is Muslim just like Muhammad Ali.” He threw air punches at Deni. ‘“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”’
“No way. Muhammad Ali is black,” said Brad.
T-Bone was just about to speak when Deni held him back. “I got this.” Deni turned to Brad and spoke
as if talking to a child. “Bradley, what’s your religion?”
“Methodist,” replied Brad with a shrug.
“That’s funny. I thought you were American,” replied Deni.
T-Bone, Devon, and Hector laughed and continued getting dressed.
“You guys are a bunch of pricks,” said Brad.
“No. I’m not a prick; I’m Santeria,” replied T-Bone.
Deni turned to T-Bone shocked. “And all this time I thought you was black.”
T-Bone laughed wildly.
Hector stepped in the conversation. “No Santeria is Cuban, isn’t it?”
“No, Cuban is Spanish,” replied Devon.
“I thought Spanish was Catholic,” said Deni.
“No, that’s Italian,” said T-Bone.
“Hey, don’t knock Italians!” shouted one of their teammates from a different row of lockers.
“Don’t worry bro!” shouted Hector. “Italians make good sandwiches!”
Deni zipped up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. “You know what I can go for - Chinese.” He rubbed his belly. “I could go for some scallion pancakes.”
“Nah, that’s white man’s food,” said T-Bone. He put his arm around Deni. “Let’s go get some ribs.”
“I’m not white?” Deni muttered, mocking confusion.
“Nope, you’re a brother,” said T-Bone.
Deni walked out with T-Bone, Devon, and Hector. It struck Deni as odd that he found more camaraderie with America’s so-called minorities, regardless of the rising population of different races and ethnic groups. The Great Melting Pot worked only if it blended into a bland, white stew, with just a spattering of different races and cultures for taste, Deni thought.
Being a Russian immigrant was a novelty for many in his circle. Occasionally he could entertain the crowds by teaching everyone Russian swear words, or being the butt of Cold War jokes. But when his family’s religion leaked into the portals of his surroundings, it was often filled with traces of distrust and hate. Although he did his best to laugh it off, that nerve ran deep. His only other choice was to deny everything he was and just be a white boy to suit everyone’s comfort.