On June 19th, we celebrate Juneteenth to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. It’s an important day for me, my family and every American of every race.

When I was growing up here in West county I would have never thought about talking about this day.  Not because I had a problem with anyone hearing my thoughts, but because anytime slaves were discussed when I was growing up, it was never in a positive light. Juneteenth was something we celebrated in Santa Rosa with other families of color at a BBQ. It was our safe space at a time when Black Lives Matter wasn’t even a thought.

As one of only a few black families in Sonoma County, Juneteenth didn’t seem like something we would want to talk about freely.  Having the freedom to talk about the day and explain why we weren’t openly celebrating never came to my mind. Why you may ask? Let me explain and tell you just a little bit about me.

I was born and raised the seventh of nine kids in Forestville, California.  I went to Forestville Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary, and El Molino High School. Although these schools were not very big, they seemed big to me.  At least big enough to have had other people of color.  I thanked God that I had a large family — many of them in school with me along with only one other black family.

No one ever bothered me because of the color of my skin but to not have more people like me — besides my family — in school was hard.  I had no mentors to look up to or people to discuss how I was feeling as one of the only black children to roam those very halls. However, I did have some advantages.  I was an athlete, the fastest girl in my school who often beat out some of the guys.  Actually, I still hold the long jump record at El Molino (maybe someone has beaten it but I hadn’t heard that yet).

I never wanted to change the color of my skin because I was one of few, but I was always aware that I was black in an all white community.  The simple privileges of being a white person and gaining access to my cultural heritage were not available to me. Makeup that matched my skin tone, products for my black thick hair, and even the ingredients to make soul food, that I am now known for, was a challenge to get. And while nobody was ever calling me out for my skin color I was having an internal struggle with the lack of cultural awareness that was all around me.

My family has had lots of help in many ways when I was growing up and I am most thankful for everything this community has given me and continues to give me. But one thing you cannot change is how others perceive you due to the color of your skin. You are always at a social and economic disadvantage. Designer clothes in a family with nine children was not a thing for us, but that was never important to me. Having a big family and celebrating all the different holidays and events that we shared as black people, religious people, and Americans were more than all the money you could make.

My parents have a motto that many have heard and it goes like this… What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We took on every challenge and tried very hard to stand out without really being seen for the color of our skin. I did that for a long time in my life and it was tiring. But now that I can proudly celebrate Juneteenth with the power of Black Lives Matter guiding me and so many others, I realize I now have freedoms that I sometimes take for granted. I know there is a long way to go and I also know that sometimes I get a little too comfortable and have to reel myself in and remember where me and my community have come from. Our fight is real and I will continually recognize that people of color continue to be marginalized. I am so happy that we are finally talking about all of this and I know that change is on the horizon.

As I reflect on a year that has brought immense amounts of positive change globally, I am proud and happy to celebrate Juneteenth and educate as many people that I come across about what this day means to Black America. It’s my way of thinking locally with a goal of effecting change globally.

~Yvette Bidegain is the owner of Saucy Mama’s Soul Food Jook Joint
Opening Fall 2021