SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2005 Personal Memory Ethnographies
My Mother, My Shame, My PrideThe late nineties were a time in which multiculturalism was embraced in a massive way, so as to create a racially “colorblind” America depicted in the media, in politics, and especially in schools. I remember a paradoxical experience in my own personal life in this “colorblind” America. A few years back, a girlfriend that I had told me that in her future, she did not want to have a housekeeper. (Specifically one that was an immigrant) Her reasoning was based on an assumption that males frequently had affairs with immigrant housekeepers. I quickly made it clear however, that I was very offended with that comment on the account that my mother was a housekeeper at the time. I felt angry not because of the insinuation that males cheated on their wives with housekeepers, but that housekeepers were home wreckers, and were uneducated, second-class immigrants.
I can remember my heart and thoughts boiled and seethed with anger when I heard her use her words to deeply cut me. I could just think of my mother and how she would respond to this young Hispanic girl who was not raised in a family where her mother was in no circumstance where being a housekeeper would even be considered. I could hear my mother’s thoughts in my heart at that moment.
“Although I have a degree and have never even dreamt that I would ever need to do domestic work to put food on Jose’s plate, I will. I have no real choice in this matter, so I won’t whine. Outside of my control, the business is gone; I am bankrupt and the government wants to take all of my earned income to pay off my new debts. I need money but I can’t earn income. I’ll be a housekeeper for just awhile ‘till things pick up and I won’t have to do this forever.”
Clutching my hair in one hand fuming at my girlfriend’s ignorant insinuations of the sexual promiscuity of housekeepers, I roared back at her for disrespecting my mother. She was aghast, dumbfounded and speechless at my defense, and at her discovery of my mother’s occupation. She did not know. Her comment was made out of ignorance.
I never thought of my mother’s occupation as anything other than an occupation. After this incident, however, I began to pick up on the attitude that my (now ex) girlfriend displayed to me, such as only Mexican immigrant (which I now decoded as dirty, low-class and uneducated) women did this type of job. I heard it, saw it and sensed everywhere, on TV. in casual adult conversations, in the schools, and any other place in this “colorblind” America. I began to feel ashamed of my mother and myself. I must be a second class citizen as well I thought, worthless. We were not immigrants but my mother did the job that was popularly known only to be such. I felt differentiated like never before in terms of my class, and my ethnicity. I understood that we needed the money and why the housekeeping job, but apparently, no one else did. No one really saw me colorblindedly, but rather in the context of my mothers’ station in life, or at least this is what I now felt towards myself. I applied the degrading stereotypes onto myself, negatively categorizing myself as others did. If America was a colorblind and diverse place where everyone was equal, something was obviously wrong with me.
From my earliest childhood memories I can remember being discriminated against. However, the incident that I had and the association that I made with my mother made my feelings of alienation take deep roots. After some years of maturation and continual dealings with racism at a more aware level, did I start to develop a different perspective of the experience that I have described and the feelings that I had about myself due to that incident.
Basically, I realized that the inferior social location that I held in the eyes of some “others” (Whites) was only a social construction that most people in the United States (in my opinion) bought into as normal/truth due to a history of oppression placed upon non-whites, with lingering mindsets held in the subconscious of American people. This negative mindset can even be ingrained so deeply on oppressed groups to the point that it be reinforced by the same people towards each other through harmful interactions. Hearing frequently of a colorblind America, I live in a world where racism is reality. When you experience discrimination daily eventually you get fed up with the idea of an ideal, race-less world because it is just not your reality. I live in a world where relations of gender, class, race and power, which Bell Hooks aptly describes as “Patriarchal (male centered, identified, dominated) Capitalist (favoring the rich/elite) White (favoring Whites) Supremacy (if you have the first three you have power),” oppress those that are not a part of its privileged categories.
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