SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Larry Clifton

Stealth Hispanic

It was the 1st day of 8th grade. I was in homeroom and was called up to the principal. I was thinking school just started I couldnít have donít anything wrong yet. Once there I was then told to have a seat. . I sat there watching the clock as I heard its endless ticks which seem to get slower each time. I caught a glimpse of inside the vice-principalís office and saw a Hispanic boy wearing a Chicago cub jersey. I wasnít sure what was going on. I myself am half-Mexican and speak Spanish fluently. Finally, I was approached by the VP. He introduced me to the boy ěHilarioî then proceeded to ask me if I would mind showing this new student around and having him in the majority of my classes. Hilario spoke no English and this junior high had no ESL program. Therefore they sought me out to translate and so on.  Hesitantly, I agreed to do so.

Until this point I never had really had any Hispanic friends and my use of Spanish was mainly at home with family. Most people really had no idea that I was Hispanic or even knew Spanish. Iíve always had dark features but light skin. Even today people think Iím Italian or something and are amazed when I speak Spanish. Also since my fatherís last name is Clifton people assumed Iím Anglo. This new task given to me by the VP of my junior high made me feel different. It brought to light what people never knew about me, which wasnít bad but just changed things.

At first I took this task as a burden. As many know junior high is hard enough to deal with on your own, but to add to this the VP had graciously assigned a Hispanic boy to make me stick out even more and double my work. I felt like I could not be anywhere at school without Hilario being right next to me. At the same time I wondered how he felt about this, was it just as much of a burden to him. He had been plucked out by his mother of what he knew and was comfortable with to a new unknown culture where he didnít even speak the language. Was he thinking ěI have no idea whatís going on, and Iím supposed to depend on this Polo-wearing half-Mexican boy to guide me through this. He seems annoyed by me. I feel like Iím just getting in the way. This seems hopeless. I want to go home.î As time passed however things greatly changed.

This once burden transformed into an amazing friendship between me and Hilario. I was now constantly speaking Spanish at school, at the same time Hilario was rapidly learning English. . This immigrant student became my best friend and brought me closer to my Hispanic side. I was now hanging out with an almost all-Hispanic crowd. People I had never known would suddenly start speaking Spanish to me. At the same time Hilario became a regular part of my Anglo friends. We became inseparable at school and away from school. By being out in this position I now felt the side of myself that was unknown to me at first and I also saw how things changed once I was exposed to it.

The better we got to know each other the more I saw how alike we were. Immigration had shaped our lives immensely and at the same time made us different. I myself am not an immigrant. However, I was born in Douglas, a border town less then 5 minutes away from Agua Prieta, Mexico. My mom was born in Chihuahua, Sonora, which is much farther into Mexico. She comes from a family of 7, 4 sisters and 3 brothers. Her entire family moved to Agua Prieta and one by one legally immigrated into the United States. She consecutively went to and finished school in both Mexico and the U.S. My dad was also born in Douglas his parents coming from Kentucky having a Black Irish and English descent. I basically grew up a mix of both white and Hispanic cultures. I learned Spanish first then was introduced to English when I started kindergarten. My momís immigration was very important and took away the poverty I couldíve faced living in Mexico as well as the hardships of crossing over and being introduced into an entirely new environment. I was in a way relieved of facing the different prejudices and the possibilities of having to do things illegally.

Immigration to my friend Hilario was also very important. His story could have easily been mine if my mom had never immigrated. His mother also comes from Chihuahua. He has 4 brothers coming from 2 different fathers who never stuck around. His mom and younger brothers crossed the border illegally before Hilario and his 2 older brothers. He has told me stories about what it was like crossing the desert to get here. They all moved here looking for a better life. His mom worked long hours just to support them. Unlike me he was basically forced into a new country not knowing what to expect, having little to no money and facing the possibilities of deportation.

 This brings us to think about ESL and schools. Not all schools have such program and even those that did have been known to just cut them out. One might wonder why American schools should have such programs for mostly illegal immigrants. I think itís a necessity. Many might be coming in illegally but they are coming for a reason. Children are brought by their parents to better their lives and education is vital part to this. They are already facing the difficulties with being in an entirely new environment feeling a sense of isolation and hopelessness. In desperation many of them turn to an easier way out. In search for belonging they may turn to gangs, and then get mixed up with drugs and alcohol among other things. They do this because they see no future, lack goals and means of going beyond everyone else around them. Although illegal they are here and are still coming here searching for a better life and educating them would only benefit the U.S. and them.

 Through this experience with Hilario I was greatly changed. Not only was I more in touch with my culture and native tongue, but with the hardships that many Hispanic immigrants have to deal with. I had never stopped to think that I could have easily been in that position myself and now realize that I had been taking many things for granted in life. While these people risked their life to attain this dream of America, I myself had it handed to me without realizing its true worth.

 Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage