SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2005 Personal Memory Ethnographies
A Matter of Class
In the 5th grade, I auditioned for the Phoenix Boys choir and was chosen to be a member of the touring choir for that year. As a member of the touring choir, I had to take two weeks off from school to travel through the mid-western United States and perform at various churches and other venues in those states. I was excited to travel to the different states to perform because I had never been to many places outside of Arizona. I was honored to be chosen to perform with the tour choir, but at the same time I was also very anxious about the trip because I had never been away from my family and friends for an extended period of time. I did not know many of the other boys in the choir, and I was hoping to make friends quickly during the tour. However, making friends was more difficult than I had imagined it would be.
My difficulty in making friends became apparent when, at one of the first stops on the tour, we were allowed to choose our roommates for the few days we were staying there. It was difficult for me to find a roommate for a few reasons. For one thing, I was not wearing the “right” shoes. All of the other boys were wearing the most popular shoe at the time, Nike Air Jordans. One of the boys told me that I was not “cool” enough to room with him because my parents could not afford to spend over $100 on shoes for me to wear. I also found myself ostracized because I did not own a Nintendo Game Boy. Almost everyone else on the trip had one to play with while we were traveling long distances on our tour bus, but I did not because my parents could not afford to buy me one of those either.
The reason why I was able to find a roommate was because I was the only one left at the end of the whole selection process. It was kind of like being the last one picked to play for a sports team. But instead of being picked based on playing talent, roommates were chosen based on what shoes they wore and what kind of video games they had. I specifically remember being told by my roommate that he did not want to room with me on the tour. He said that all of his friends in the choir had already picked each other as roommates and that I happened to be the only one left without one. He really had no other choice. He then told me that he was going to make sure that at the next stop on the tour that he roomed with one of his friends, and not someone who he had nothing in common with.
It was difficult for me to understand at the time why I was so “different” from every other boy in the choir because almost everyone in my neighborhood had the same kind of things that I grew up having. None of my friends had parents who could afford to buy them a Nintendo Game Boy or Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes. Instead, my friends and I would run around our neighborhood playing hide-and-go-seek or tag in our crummy old tennis shoes. Material things like the kind of shoes I wore or the kind of video games I had were never important to my friends.
The experience of being in the Phoenix Boys Choir and being on tour was one that I will definitely not forget. I will always remember the trip because it was the first time that I was able to see first-hand how class is a socially constructed difference. This experience also showed me that along with differences in class come differences in the way people are treated or perceived based on class.
It was not until I had this opportunity to step away from my family and out of my neighborhood that I was able to see that there were families that could afford to provide certain things for their children that my family could not. To many adolescent boys, shoes and video games are the most important things in the world. They are the symbols that divide the “cool” kids from everyone else. As an adult, I see now how superficial and insignificant wanting to have the same things as everybody else really is. However, at that time in my life, fitting in meant having the same things that all of the other boys had.
This experience has given me a greater understanding of what it means to belong to a certain class and the way that society treats people based on class. I remember my mother telling me one time that we were very lucky to have been able to afford the house that I grew up in because money for my parents was always in short supply. Like a lot of other families, my parents were living paycheck-to-paycheck with little to no savings. However, I was never aware of this fact growing up. As far as I knew, everyone in America, the world for that matter, was neither better nor worse off than my family. This experience also taught me how important it is to treat everyone equally no matter who they are or how much they have.
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