Saturday, February 29, 2020

Vivian Liberto Distin (1934-2005)

Vivian Liberto and her first husband, Johnny Cash.

Liberto was born in San Antonio, Texas, on April 23, 1934. She met Cash at a roller rink in 1951. After three weeks of dating, Cash proposed. They were married in 1954.

Twelve years and four children later, Liberto filed for divorce, citing Cash's drug and alcohol abuse, his constant touring and extra-marital affairs.

Liberto is of Italian-American heritage, but because some thought she looked Black, the Cashes were persecuted, both personally (death treats) and professionally (cancelled shows).

Here is Vivian Liberto, as played by Ginnifer Goodwin, in the Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005):

Here is what Liberto and Cash's daughter Kathy had to say about how her mom was depicted in that film.

Mistaking someone of one racialized identity for another is nothing new. I know of two instances. The first was told to me by a childhood friend, the son of a Canadian-born Italian (Calabrian) father and a Canadian-born mother of Scottish descent. The two were travelling in the American South in the mid-1960s. They boarded a city bus, and my friend's father was told to move to the back of it.

Another story was told to me by a Calgary writer of Italian (Sicilian) descent who was dating a woman whose parents came from Northern Italy (Milan). After a couple months, his then-girlfriend invited him to meet her parents at her family home in Calgary's Mayfair neighbourhood. When they arrived at the house, the girl's mother opened the door, took one look at the writer and said to her daughter, "Get that n*gger off my steps," before slamming the door in their faces.

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