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

Christen Garden

Chica Blanca Tratando de Cruzar la Calle para Jugar

(White Girl Trying to Cross the Street to Play)


            When I was only about four years old in 1978 we moved and I now lived in a huge house compared to the last one I lived in.  The neighborhood was mixed with many variations of class and ethnicity.  My parents' old neighborhood in South Phoenix at Baseline and 7th Street on the mountainside area was full of mostly older white couples that were empty-nesters or into retirement age or mostly Hispanic.  We did live in downtown Glendale for a few years as my parents' first house, which is where I remember learning to walk.  But, now we lived in Maryvale, in Phoenix, and this area was newly built and established on the outer edges of the Phoenix Metro area.  Healthy green bushes were planted all over the place in the neighborhood on both sides of the street and the yards were always well watered and cleaned up.  I loved that the moms took the time on the greenery because it made my mother so happy and she died relatively young after adult onset schizophrenia, so it was a very cheerful aspect of her shorter life.  The poles supporting the green shrubs were so much bigger than me and they made me feel so small.


            At four years old and under I was not aware that I was white and not Hispanic, nor did I even have any clue what Hispanic or Mexican was.   But when I moved into this neighborhood, things changed a bit.  My new little friends were from Chihuahua, Mexico.  They were so great and full of sunshine, they were named Manuel and Carmen.  I remember asking them why their city had a puppy's name.    We played together in the front driveways in the large rusty red pickup truck beds, and in the flowers and trees and swing-sets of our front yards all day and all night until the streetlights came on and our mothers expected us home. 


            I'm Carlos, I lived in Maryvale in 1978.  This little white girl named Christen moved in next door when I was ten years old.  My family has been living here for ten years since the houses were built in Maryvale in 1968.  Both my parents' neighborhood was in Chihuahua, Mexico. My brother and sister are named Manuel and Carmen.  I remember Christen asking us why their city had a puppy's name. She must not speak or understand two languages like we do.   The white girl and Manuel and Carmen played together all day long in the front yards.


            One night, my mom was making dinner in the kitchen.  She told me I was allowed to go outside for a little while before dinner was done and meet up with my friends.  Now my family was getting ready to move for the third time because my father's new job with the Glendale Police Department required us to physically live in Glendale in 1978.   When I went outside to join them, my friends looked at me and went back inside their house.  I went to knock at the door and their mother answered.  I do not remember any of the words she said or anything of her expression but I remember being confused. 


            One night, my mom was making dinner in the kitchen.  She told me that the white girl is a güera.  But something about the way my mom pointed out the obvious suggested that it wasn't a good thing that Christen is white.  Of course I already knew that because this was 1978 and I'm sure I could see she's white.  The next day, when the white little girl came to the door my mother answered.  I do not remember any of the words she said or anything of her expression but I remember the little girl was confused.   She was probably six years old and had been playing with Manuel and Carmen day in and day out for a couple years and all summers.   


            But, next day when we all came outside Christen went to play with Manuel and Carmen.  When she tried to talk and play with my sister and brother outside in the pickup truck, we just watched her cross the street really quietly without saying much.   I talked to her and I said, “Go home white girl”.  I told her firmly so she knew to go back to her side of the street and get home and away from us.


            When I tried to talk and play with my buddies outside on the pickup truck, they watched me cross the street really weird stillness and seriousness in their expressions.  Carlos, the oldest brother was about ten years old and he approached me and did the talking.  He said “go home white girl”.  I asked him why, he said we don't wanna play with a güera (pronounced “weda”, which means white girl). This word was not one that I recognized and I thought he was saying I was a wet head or a spiderweb or I just didn't know what.   So all I heard was rejection.  My heart sank way way way down into my chest and I went home and cried on my bed and didn't eat for at least two days.  It hurt.  I didn't look at race or color in any way until this incident.  I didn't think the differences in our skin colors mattered until that day.


The experience I was dealing with in 1979 is easy to see from the eyes of a child.  The children involved in my story, Carlos, Manuel, Carmen and I, had no frame of reference besides our parents.  Our parents were having two totally different experiences across the street from each other.  I can only guess that with my family's white privilege we would not have the same lens to view the situation like my Mexican friends' family.  Their experience could be that Mexicans getting deported around that time may have been their own family members.  While we lived right on the same street and the same neighborhood, there was a border of difference between us.  This border is the difference that should not have even been seen—and it was, in fact, unseen by me or my family.  My parents had a better insight into the difference.  My dad was a police officer and knew a lot more about what was going on than I did about current immigration issues. To me, it was just another summer playing in the streets and yards of Maryvale, Phoenix, Arizona.


            The sting of my memory of this incident is brought on when ever I see any rusty red truck.  That was where we used to play until difference came to our street and I could not cross anymore.



On November 22, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, leaving Lyndon B. Johnson as successor. President Johnson appoints more Mexican Americans to positions in government than any president before; he passes landmark legislation advocating desegregation.

1964 - Bracero Program Ends; Undocumented Laborers Continue to Arrive from Mexico


Braceros crossing into Hidalgo, TX
Source: "Images," Bracero History Archive (accessed Aug. 12, 2009)

"In 1964, Washington cancelled [the Bracero] program unilaterally, and a new stage emerged. The Mexican government insisted on renewing the program. The US government was not interested because migrant laborers continued to arrive without papers and outside of negotiated agreements. Thus began the era of undocumented migration by 'irregular' migrants who worked temporarily under the threat of deportation... The Mexican side was a 'no-man's land' where criminals and human traffickers operated freely... In this phase, laissez-faire attitudes and policies reigned, though both governments would pay the costs 20 years later."


Striking workers are subjected to physical and verbal attacks throughout their peaceful demonstrations, and on March 16, the Senate Sub-Committee on Migratory Labor held hearings in Delano.

March 17, the morning following the hearings, Cesar Chavez sets out with 100 farm workers to begin his pilgrimage to the San Joaquin Valley. After 25 days, their numbers swell from hundreds, to an army of thousands.

On Easter Sunday, the state capital is finally in sight. With public sympathy mounting and the spring growing season upon them, growers finally agree to meet with union representatives.


On March 6, a walkout is planned and coordinated among East L.A. high schools. Approximately 10,000 students peacefully walk out of four schools and are joined by parents and supporters. Police are sent to maintain order—and things get out of hand.

May 23, 1975 - Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act Admits Displaced Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians

"The ill-fated war in Southeast Asia officially ended with the retreat of the United States in 1975. With this withdrawal, however, came immense responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians we had recruited in the war against communism. Indeed, many of them paid a fearful price when South Vietnam fell and American protection disappeared. In partial recompense, the United States began a refugee program to admit some of the populations [an estimated 130,000 people] displaced [into the United States]."


Undocumented Mexican, among them a woman carrying a baby, board a plane in Los Angeles, Calif., while being deported back to their native Mexico, July 27, 1976.

Thonorsop Honors Graduates in 1975, Maryvale High School, Panthorian Yearbook. 

My Incident in
Phoenix, Arizona

1980 - Census Estimates 2 to 4 Million Immigrants in the United States Illegally with about Half from Mexico

"...[T]he undocumented Mexican population in 1980 was in the 1-2 million range, with the total number from all countries falling in the range of 2-4 million... Of the undocumented present and counted in 1980, 941,000 entered during 1975-1980; 576,000 entered during 1970-1974; and 540,000 entered before 1970... Finally, the estimates for 1980 show a high proportion of recent arrivals, and very few who entered the United States prior to 1960."


Seeking to bring illegal immigration under control while maintaining a stable agricultural labor force, President Ronald Reagan signs the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). It is intended to toughen U.S. immigration law; border security is to be enforced and employers are now required to monitor the immigration status of their employees. It also, however, grants amnesty to nearly three million immigrants – mostly Mexicans – who had quietly slipped across the border during the 1970s and '80s.


The proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States, and Mexico expands and exploits the maquiladora concept, offering potential tax reductions to U.S. businesses.

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