SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Armando Chacon, Jr.

El Desafortunado

An incident that I experienced several years ago made me realize how fragile and sensitive a human being can be when faced with discrimination.  I caused the event myself, in which I discriminated against someone from my own ethnicity. My family is of Latin decent and growing up in an all Puerto Rican family we are traditionally taught family cultures, values, and traditions.  One of the many lessons Latinos are taught is to love and respect all of our people.  Unfortunately, being raised in the United States and adapting to the ways of life and having the mentality of an "AMERICAN", I lost touch with my roots and lost some of my family morals. 

I was in high school at the time, an all-Caucasian high school and very rarely did I see someone of a different race or color.  The majority of my friends were all non-Latin, descent; therefore I never had the opportunity to associate with anyone from my ethnicity except when being with my family.  I was walking to class with friends when we noticed a group of young immigrant Mexican guys.  One particular individual caught the attention of my friends and they decided to pick on him.  My first reaction when I first saw him was that he was a typical immigrant Mexican guy that had just arrived from Mexico with his entire family in order to try and obtain the benefits and gain the advantages of being Americans.  Unfortunately, one enormous disadvantage he had was not knowing the English language.  I would never have imagined that he would have any clue of the horrific experience that was about to happen to him. 

As my friends began teasing, mocking, and basically causing trouble with the young immigrant Mexican guy, I just listened as my friends cursed at him.  Soon, what began as childish teasing turned into violence.  I figured that this guy had no idea that the probable reason for him being bothered was because the apparel that he was wearing and general appearance were not up to the standards of hip Americans. I thought to myself that being in an entirely different country and immediately being thrown into the customs and routines of a young American would be a complete cultural shock for anyone. 

What this immigrant Mexican guy did not understand was even though we are the same, our ethnic group was broken up into two categories. On the one hand, individuals from Mexico, Mexican-Americans, or Chicanos were considered Hispanic.  On the other hand, people from Cuba, Columbia, Puerto Rico, etc. were considered Latino. Because of this division there was tension between both ethnic groups. I myself was shocked when I first heard that our own Spanish-speaking people were divided amongst themselves and not united as one group.

My friends then grabbed the immigrant Mexican guy and carried him to the restroom.  I watched his horrific pale face as they were carrying him to the restroom.  I followed, not knowing what was going to happen.  I looked around as my peers were carrying him and noticed other students in shock at the event that was occurring at that moment.  As we entered the restroom I listened to the sound of the Mexican guy’s body hit the bathroom stall as my friends threw him against it.  They started kicking and punching him for no reason.  I listened to him recite a prayer while my peers were beating him. 

My friends then told me to participate with them, which by doing so would send a message to all the other “Mexicans” to go back where they came from.  I did not want to hurt the young immigrant because he hadn't done anything.  Looking at the facial expressions of my peers and seeing such hatred as they were beating the Mexican guy, I felt completely pressured. In order to avoid confrontation with my friends I started to punch and kick the guy. Strange feelings and emotions ran through my body, which were something that I had never felt before. I felt anguish as my fists bled and bruised after beating up the immigrant Mexican guy. I felt so emotionally low and any dignity that I had went right into the trash.  

The complete cause of all this was due to the way the young man looked, spoke, and dressed.  My friends assumed that their way was the "AMERICAN" way and therefore, any other way was not acceptable.  As for the immigrant Mexican guy all I could think was his reaction and questions as to why he had been beaten.  Why me?  Was it because I did not fit in with everyone else?  Because I was not "AMERICAN"? 

From this painful incident I realized that in order to become and be considered an "AMERICAN", “you have to give up your ethnicity, culture, traditions, and race”, from the words of Victor in the film "The Color of Fear".  I realized that most people couldn’t accept or refuse to accept anything that is not familiar to them. They become afraid of what they expect might happen, or become affected by change from these complete strangers with their cultural, traditions, and customs. This event stuck with me over the years because I realized how hateful a human being can be towards another human being, without any real reason.  In this case, I too was this hateful human being.  An unfortunate lesson that I have learned from this is that people can be so ignorant and not want to accept change due to not wanting to feel uncomfortable towards a new surrounding.  I realized that even though someone could have the same cultural, traditions, and even ethnic background as another, he or she can still discriminate against that other person. I personally believe this is a land of self-hatred induced by the pressures of a racist and anti-immigrant society.

    As someone grows up and enters young adulthood there are many pressures that that individual faces.  Whether it is pressure from friends, family, or significant others, people who feel pressured most of the time fall victims just to fit in with “the “crowd” and not be singled out as an outcast.  Everyone as they grow up comes in contact with all sorts of pressured situations.  In my case, I fell victim to extreme pressure and the unfortunate solution to my problem was to beat up the Hispanic boy.  In my mind I had to adapt. I rationalized that what I did was correct because the immigrant Mexican boy did not look normal or “American”.  To my deep regret, I also learned that as I adapted to the American lifestyle under peer pressure, I started forgetting my roots, where I grew up, how I was raised, and the teachings of my culture.

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