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The summer before I began middle school, my family moved from Antioch, a diverse town with a reputation for high crime, to Danville, a graffiti-free, gang-free community with blue ribbon schools. It was like winning the Mexican immigrant lottery.
I was ten years-old, and I was excited about the move. Especially about no longer having to eat the rubbery hot dogs and watered down macaroni and cheese at my old school. In contrast, my Danville school offered freshly prepared Caesar salads. And culture shock was also on the menu.
In Danville, it seems like most of my friends’ parents have advanced degrees, but neither of my parents have gone to college. Instead, they worked for years in factories and restaurants to get where they are right now. And it isn’t just an issue of class.
At my middle school, Latino students made up only 5 percent of the population. I felt like a little brown pebble stuck in a glistening pile of white sand. And the sand, it didn’t want me there. I sat next to classmates who flatly called Mexicans stupid and illegal. I made friends who, behind my back, would say that all Mexican girls are sluts.
Even now in high school, I tense up when I hear the word Mexican, because often something disturbing follows it. Last year, a classmate sitting two seats behind me declared that Mexicans were dirty. I was the only Mexican-American kid in that class, and I sat in painful silence for the rest of that period.
It’s really hard for me to trust classmates with my friendship. It’s just an uncomfortable feeling knowing my peers might not view me with my full humanity.
Calling attention to the problems in our school sometimes feels impossible, because I worry that some students will label me as “too sensitive” or “easily offended.” But I think a lot of my classmates forget that racism is easier to notice when you’re the one affected by it.