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

Miriam Mendez

Hidden Borders for the Unmodel Minority

imageAs I looked through the history of Latinos in the educational system I noticed that several incidents which occurred that relate to what other Mexican-Americans have faced in academia. Segregation, mistreatment and discrimination is nothing new to Latinos. Unfortunately most Chicanos do not see the hidden biases in the system, not until similar experiences are heard or movements are created. It is not until then that similar issues are exposed and connections are made of our memories.

Milpitas is the Mexican Spanish word for little cornfield which is the name of the town I grew up in. Many locals, especially Chicanos, know it as “Milpas”. Although I was born in San Jose and later moved to South Phoenix, Milpitas was my home. It is located in the Bay Area and borders Fremont and San Jose California. It’s diverse, a city filled with Hispanics, several thousands Mexicans, Asians, Caucasians, Pacific Islanders and African Americans. However, the area I had recently moved to had a large population of Mexicans and Filipinos.

Alexander Rose Elementary is the school I had recently moved to and attended. I was one of three Hispanic children in a second grade class filled with different ethnicities and races, most whom were Asian and Pacific Islanders. I was the best artist in the class and didn’t understand why the majority of my class had picked another classmate’s dinosaur drawing over mine in a close contest we held. Our class had been learning about dinosaurs and the second graders at school were all doing arts and crafts on them. Everyone drew a dinosaur, stuffed it and then painted it. The best looking project went on to our school’s assembly and then acknowledged and rewarded. At the time, the loss was disturbing and it was tough to understand why I lost. I thought it all had to do with race and alliances. There was more of them and less of me.

Ferdinand was the boy I lost the drawing contest to. He wasn’t a bad artist, however he had advantages that I didn’t. He also had a good relationship with our 2nd grade teacher Mr. Nugyen which I didn’t. I never liked our teacher even though he had a good relationship with most students. For one month we learned about dinosaurs and went to the San Francisco Museum to look at fossils. Everyone really enjoyed learning about dinosaurs because Jurassic Park was big back then. Ferdinand knew I was mad because he had a lot his friends and classmates vote for him, he told them to and they did. The incident that took place wasn’t more or less about losing a small dinosaur contest.

In retrospect, this incident became the first encounter of hidden discrimination I would face in the school system. After my drawing lost the contest I walked out of the class wanting to be in a class with similar kids like me; I didn’t want to be different. This was the first time I thought I was different. I felt as if I stood out even though one of my friends in class was Mexican. The difference was that he didn’t speak Spanish and I did. At home I spoke Spanish but during 2nd grade I couldn’t, not unless it was with someone outside of class. Of the three Hispanic students in our class I was also the only girl. These were differences that slowly became eye-opening. It was a border and separation of classes, genders, and minorities.  

At Rose Elementary school, most of the Hispanic children were placed in bilingual classes, which they ran from kindergarten through 5th grade. My classmates included several students whose parents had migrated from Asia and the Philippines, yet none of them were placed in bilingual classes. I never thought of this at the time, that it was partially segregated. It is evident that there was also separation among minorities, model minority “Asians” and us Latinos.

The perception of those in bilingual classes are based on shared stereotypes. At the time I didn’t understand why all the Mexican/Hispanic children were placed in a different class. For us second graders there was a total of two bilingual classes and one “regular class”. None of my friends or classmates associated ourselves with any of the bilingual classes. We often fought with the kids in these classes, threw rocks and called each other names during recess. We had the impression that they were “the bad kids” of the school. After my dinosaur drawing lost I walked out of the class wanting to be in a class with similar individuals like me; I didn’t want to be different.

Why was I the only Mexican girl in the “regular” class in a school where Mexican-Americans were half the population? Why was it that my entire second grade class looked at the bilingual students as the dumb and misbehaved kids? Why did I feel like I didn’t belong in a class full of Asians? These are all incidents that are interwoven with one another and the idea of racism in the system that to keep minorities down. This is a real issue and not just a feeling which has been repeated through history. Mexican students are discriminated against and feel as if they are made to be different.

Although my situation occurred in the late 90’s, it was then carried along with me to this day. A researcher/professor presented her study about South Phoenix communities and marginality and discrimination that also prevailed within the school system. Dr. Seline Szkupnski briefly spoke about students placed in ESL/ELL programs just because they have a Spanish last name. ESL/ELL classes are meant for students who are new to the country. However, several Mexican-American students are placed in these classes, which permanently mark them through high school. This was one form of discrimination in the system that is similar to bilingual classes across the country. The assumption that students are not proficient in English because of their last name is false.

During the year I lost the dinosaur contest Mr. Nuygen called my home over the summer and suggested I should consider bilingual classes. After that summer I decided to be placed in bilingual classes without knowing how it would affect me in the long run. This especially affected me when I moved to South Phoenix in 2004. I had to constantly do the AZELLA test although I passed, and had “English Learner” labeled on me. I was placed in ELS classes in High School even though I really didn’t speak Spanish well. This affects students because instead of learning other things, students spend most of their time learning English. Dr. Szkupnski talked about higher achievement and properly preparing students for college, all which South Phoenix does not properly do. Latino students are looked upon as remedial students and constantly discriminated against. This is a major issue that was shown through history among Chicano students which lead to several protest and walkouts.  

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