SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Sidney Anderson

Grandma Says “Girls Don’t Rule”

On the second Sunday in October, at a family gathering when I was about 15 years of age, I was sitting around the kitchen table with my two brothers, my father, and paternal grandmother. Events in our family are spent having a fantastic dinner at my grandmother’s house as well as intriguing conversations. It just so happened on this occasion, my youngest brother’s 13th birthday, we had been discussing various colleges and where each of us kids would go, when the time came.

The smells of the delicious food wafted through the house. It started in the kitchen where dinner had been prepared and made its way through the rest of the house. Soon, the delectable aroma of the baked chicken combined with the smell of my grandmother’s famous broccoli floated up from our plates in front of us.  To all of us, there was nothing better than the smells that came out of our grandmother’s kitchen during family gatherings such as this.

The sound of silverware scraping plates as we ate our dinner, or the smell of burning wax from the candle sitting in the middle of the table were just some of the distractions.  The heat in the house was almost overwhelming, considering that the air conditioning was on at its very lowest setting.  Each person had the shine of perspiration glistening off their faces. Whether it was from the heat of the candle or the heat of the house, any guess might be correct.

 At the time, my older brother was preparing to apply to a few colleges he wished to attend.  My grandmother would nod her head at each of his choice schools which were within Arizona. The highest level of academic education that she had achieved was a high school diploma. In rural Minnesota, where my grandmother was raised, practical learning was needed more than a textbook education.  As for my father, he had achieved only a high school education. Neither one of them had any real idea of which college would be good for their family to attend.

When I raised my own voice to mention where I wanted to attend college, my father and grandmother both stopped and looked at me as if I was a fanatic or had lost my mind completely. I remember the look of bewilderment that was on my grandmother’s face. Her attention to my comment was fleeting, though.  She then continued her conversation and paid absolutely no notice to what I had said and continued to focus on my two brothers, one who was a few years older and one who was a couple years younger than I. Both said they were planning to attend medical school, when the time came. 

My grandmother and father went about discussing their own ideas of where my brothers should attend college. Again, I made a comment about wanting to attend a specific college. At this point, I heard something extraordinary come out of my grandmother’s mouth. My grandmother informed me that I would not be going to any major university. I would be attending a community college so I could acquire an Associate’s Degree. This associate’s degree would then go on to help me “run” my brothers’ medical offices. That was as much education as I would need.

I felt as if I had become invisible. It was the most degrading moment of my life and at that moment made me realize where I stood, as a female, in my very own family.  I knew it had nothing to do with who I was, as an Anderson.  The issue was, and still is, I am a female who wants more education but the patriarchal family tradition leads in the opposite direction. Ironically it was my grandmother who upheld the patriarchal tradition.

The issue hasn’t come up again. Even when I decided to attend ASU West, the subject of my position as a female in the world, did not come up again.  But that memory has wedged itself in my brain since I was a young adult.  The thought about my gender role has become a very sensitive topic in my paternal family. I was discriminated against by family members who I thought were more open-minded than they truly are. Thank God for my Hispanic mother and her modern ideals.  The clash between my father’s family and my mother’s family has strengthened my determination for education and career success.  Also, it definitely has influenced both my brothers and their relationships.

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