SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Victoria Sutton

Personal Ethnography

I hope these fish are biting this morning.  It would be nice to have a fresh fish dinner tonight and this gives me a chance to get outside in the morning before it gets too hot.  The park looks nice today…peaceful.  The pond is so still.  Ah, here comes one of those schoolgirls on the bike trail.  Her friend is not with her.  They never say anything to me, just ride by on their way to that small church school at the top of the hill.  They never say much to any of the other kids around here.   There she goes up the hill.  I suppose like any other day she will stop at the ramada at the top of the hill for a drink and a rest.  There are some nearby neighborhood girls up in the ramada too.  I think that they have the week off from school.  I wonder if the schoolgirl will say anything to the other girls up there.   Probably not.    Now I see that the girl is stopping after all.  Perhaps she knows them, perhaps she talks to them, and perhaps she is not like the Others.  They are saying something to her, but I don’t think she understands all of the words.  Still, she should say something, greet them and acknowledge them.  She is not saying anything at all…she is ignoring them!  She ignores Us; she IS like the Others.

What is going on now?  The group of girls is getting angry…they are pushing the Other girl off her bike!  Now they are roughing her up.  I wonder if she said something to Them that angered them.  She is leaving and crying, going to school.  That’s not right, the group of girls shouldn’t have done that.   I guess I won’t see that girl around here for a while, not without her friend anyway.

I went to private and usually parochial schools all of my life.  It wasn’t because we had money or discipline problems.  It was because my mother wanted us (brother) to have what she considered the best education possible.  Did she ever have to scrape by to keep us in these schools.   We lived in a fairly decent neighborhood during my pre-middle school years and for a kid growing up, it was great.  Lots of parks, friends, and kids.  My best friend Suzy and I would ride our bikes to a small parochial school on the border of south Scottsdale and Tempe.  It is so small that it was virtually unheard of and still is today with no more than a couple hundred kids consuming K-8.   We were a couple of silly girls who wore bright tennis shoes to offset our uniforms and we would always ride our bicycles through a large park to get to the school. Once almost through the park and to the school stood a hill of great proportions (at least then), and at the top was a Ramada with the coveted drinking fountain that we always needed once over the great mountain.  To the west, there was a pond where men would go to fish and every now and again we would go down to the bank to see what was caught.

One day Suzy had the flu and I had to ride my bicycle to school by myself.  It was early in the morning but already warm and humid, making the nearby pond smell stronger. The sprinklers had just turned off and the grass was bright and wet in the sunlight.  It was on this typical spring morning in the Valley of the Sun that I had to conquer the mountain by myself.   Once I was at the top of the hill, I of course rode into the Ramada to use the fountain.  That day the Ramada wasn’t empty and I wasn’t alone.  Inside and by the drinking fountain was a group of girls.  They were all a little older (or so it seemed at the time) and they were all Hispanic.  I hadn’t noticed them until I was already in the Ramada and at that point, they were speaking to each other in Spanish, then making fun of me in English.  I didn’t know what to do other than ignore them and leave, and that seemed to infuriate them.  They proceeded to knock me off of my bike and push me around while making all sorts of comments.  They pulled on my uniform and finally shoved me down onto the pavement and walked away laughing.  A fisherman, an older Hispanic man sitting near the pond with his pole in the water saw everything.  He did nothing but watched.  I wasn’t really hurt physically, maybe some small scrapes, but that wasn’t what I recalled the most.   I picked up my bike and went to school, in tears and terrified.

So, how did I feel prior to this journey?  Hispanic women in a group setting generally worried me, to the point where I will not lift my eyes or head to look at them when I walked by, and that was not my character at all.  I know that this wasn’t right, and I know I shouldn’t have felt this way.  After all, it could have been a gang of white girls, black girls, Native American girls or anyone else for that matter.   Would I feel the same toward a different group of people if they were the ones roughing me up that day? Would it have been different if they were white?  I had a fear of another race of people and it was very difficult for me to see it another way.

The more I think of this incident, the less I can recall having Hispanic people in my classes before that day.  I never thought much about cultural or racial differences before.  I never knew that there were differences to understand or respect and I certainly didn’t know at the time that I was ignoring these differences or uncertain views felt by the Others. I can remember my classmates - there were Hispanic girls, but they were simply my peers, friends and classmates.  I never felt uncomfortable or nervous, but now I wonder, did they?

An interpretation of the incident between the Hispanic girls and myself from my current post-journey perspective is certainly altered from the interpretation I would have given those many years ago, or even recently.  I really hated those Other girls for that incident, but now, throughout this small journey, I have come to a peace with them and their decisions that day.   I now can reflect on the bystander, the fisherman, and think that perhaps he saw me get up and realized that I wasn’t hurt.  Perhaps he thought that I needed that event.

The borderlands encountered were certainly the ethnic backgrounds and the traditions of the Mexican people.   But I could also look at those borderlands as my own.  Perhaps the borderlands with these girls were created by myself alone, and I felt separated by this border, for many years.  The borderland I saw with these girls was language and culture.  A group as large as that speaking in words I didn’t understand was forbidding.  A girl like myself wearing a school uniform and being white, I’m sure I was also an Other, as forbidding and threatening as they were to me.  As reflected in Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands La Frontera, women in Mexican cultures aren’t expected to be highly educated or on the way to independence from family.   I didn’t and still don’t know what is taught now in the homes of young girls.   There are many puzzling questions I could ask of this situation, but for now, I choose to let it rest with the understanding that these questions, along with their answers exist.  I choose to acknowledge their existence and move on to changing my own views.

In my life now, I see much change in my own attitudes.  Several months ago, I was stubborn. The thought that a group or “gang” of girls, especially Hispanics, was something to fear, something to stay away from, something I didn’t want to come across.  It was a sort of panic that followed me.  I have been working on this attitude, and  I have noticed in my efforts and that there is a change.  There is a change in the borders.  I have realized that when I focus on not being worried, when I focus on my new education in diversity, focus on just accepting that people are different and have different backgrounds, I don’t get the same old fearful projections back.  I have noticed that many Hispanics are now smiling at me, because I believe I may be projecting a non-hesitant and very accepting “vibe” and I find myself now greeting them.    My thoughts and attitudes are very different, and this once unpleasant person that I’m sure I was has changed.  This border between myself and those of a Hispanic background will come down; it will become a home, and not a Diaspora.  It will be a comfortable place for Others, for myself, for us.  I cannot speak for everyone, and I will not change everyone’s way of thinking to match my own, but for now, in my own little scrap of this world, there is peace, and I hope there is for all Others (not only Hispanics) that I encounter.

Dr. K,
Thank you for this project.

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