SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2015       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Vanessa Calzada

Family Vacation with a Side of Discrimination

         Every summer my mother plans a family trip to California. It almost always involves days at the beach, unique dinners and plenty of activities. Since we frequently visit California, she also enjoys to vacation in a different city every year. Going out to eat every day is also another luxury we appreciate during our stay “out of town” and therefore often a topic up for debate. To satisfy each one of my eight Mexican-American family members is often a challenge since we all vary in age and interests. My parents are both in their early forties, brothers and sisters that are in their teens, and my son who is the youngest at eleven years old. Due to the age differences we clearly all have our own ideas of where would be an enjoyable place to dine. In order to appease everyone we vote on which restaurants we would prefer to go to ahead of time. Family time is particularly important to us as a family and our trips together have always been memorable ones.

         I come from an even larger extended family. My grandparents on my mother’s side alone had nine surviving children out of fourteen and migrated from Chihuahua, Mexico to the Southwestern part of the United States for better opportunities (financial, educational, etc.). They instilled in our entire family the importance of humility in any circumstance. We were blessed to have made it to Los Estados Unidos and therefore discouraged from calling attention to ourselves out of fear of being singled out as “un-American.” We took any place we were allowed to remain undetected and seemingly harmless to the dominant Anglo culture. Although this summer, what was an impoliteness at best during our family dinner unveiled for a moment the upsetting cultural realities of our modern-day society.

                  My Mother: I was a little skeptical from the beginning since the outside the restaurant was not to my satisfaction, to be quite honest. It was dirty and in a-- what seemed to be-- a bad part of town. I begrudgingly entered the restaurant with my family because my kids insisted. As I entered the restaurant I felt overwhelmed by the red and gold paint decorating every wall. After waiting for about thirty minutes we were approached by a non-welcoming hostess. We were finally seated near the entrance to the kitchen, where carts filled with dirty dishes adorned the back wall. I immediately knew I should have followed my instincts and suggested a different place. By that time the kids were even more eager to eat dinner so we regretfully stayed.

         My mother always strives to live the opposite of how she grew up and feels she could have the life she desires if she works hard for it. Living in single-wide trailers and constantly migrating to follow the work in the fields, she states was miniscule compared to the discrimination she felt at an affluent, all white school. She had always felt shunned by the White, rich girls at school and found it difficult to transcend the racial boundaries enforced.  Hard work, education, and sacrifices for her, was the solution for a better life. My siblings and I similar to my mother have always lived in a predominantly White community; ironically districts in which my mother felt had the best schools and better opportunities. Although I always knew we weren’t “White” there was always a sense of unsettling fear that we would be seen as intruders in “their” space.

         About an hour had passed at the restaurant, and we were seated in a cramped section near the kitchen. Happy to finally be seated, my mother advised us not to complain and “make the best out of it”. Another fifteen minutes had passed when the waiter had returned with waters and menus. Every polite request appeared to be an inconvenience by the waiter’s repetitive sighs. We had noticed that we were not being given the same quality service as the other customers (who were all white). After I had made a comment to my mother she said that regardless of the situation we should remain positive and not let it ruin our night. I was angry and although all of us recognized it, we tried to ignore it. Once our plates arrived the feelings of discrimination had subsided for a moment. It wasn’t until I asked for another glass of water when I was reminded that we “weren’t good enough to be served”. The waiter responded by setting a large plastic pitcher filled with ice water in front of me.

         I noticed other large parties being carefully attended to although I decided to not make it an issue.  By the time we were served our plates, our glasses had still not been refilled. We asked a waitress for water and instead of refilling all of our glasses she brought us a pitcher of water and set it down in front of my eldest daughter. I was upset by the second class treatment towards my family but downplayed the offense because my daughter would have caused a scene.

My mother believes we should always have respect, even for those who might show disdain for the Mexican-American. She feels that by confronting the waiter about said incident, it would bring embarrassment to our family and reinforce destructive, ignorant labels of Mexican-Americans.

I wanted us to enjoy time together and not let this incident ruin our evening, even though I felt like yelling at somebody. This experience taught me that people are bonded through cultures and reaffirmed by my mom’s belief: “no te juntes con diferente raza” (do not mix with a different race).

         Although we made light of the negative experiences I couldn’t help but to feel publicly humiliated as a family, and that reason, more painful. We felt that our money was just as good as the money of other patrons, therefore we felt disrespected and humiliated in front of other customers. It pained me that the efforts of my grandparent’s sacrifices to migrate to the States for social and economic equality were devalued by the dismissive approach by the restaurant employees. Although as a nation we call for the ending of discrimination we must first recognize the role we play in perpetuating this cultural, social, and economic hierarchical structure. Not until then are we are able to start a mindset change within ourselves, our culture, and become an example to those around us.

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