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

Daniel Avena

The Racist Friend

    Playing football in high school had always been a big dream for me ever since I was a little kid. When I finally grew up and walked into the locker room as a freshman in the year 2000, it seemed as if a dream had come true. I had also set a few goals that I wanted to meet in high school. My first goal was to be a starter on the football team. Being one of the smallest players on the team definitely didn’t help my chances, but I was able to overcome my physical disability of being small with other attributes. My first goal had come true. My other goal was definitely going to be my hardest to accomplish. I wanted to be well known in high school. This meant that people would have to know who I was, both on the football field and around campus during school. How I was going to meet this goal, I had no idea.

For many, meeting people comes naturally. I’ve always have though of it as a gift that I wasn’t given. No matter where they are, the attention is always on outgoing people. I was a shy kid growing up all through elementary school. Since the elementary school that I went to didn’t feed into the high school that I attended, I saw this as an opportunity to change the way I was since no one was going to know me.

As I walked on campus as a freshman, I saw everyone talking with one another since everyone knew each other from elementary and I felt really left out. I found that changing who you are is a lot more difficult than it seems. I was planning on showing up and stealing all the attention, but I quickly realized that it’s not easy as it seems. On the football field, it was the same way. Everyone would talk to each other as I was trying to fit in. This went on for a good two weeks as I gradually began to get more comfortable. When the starting line-ups were posted and I saw that I was going to be one of the starters on defense, I found this to be a great opportunity to get to know my teammates better. One of my teammates by the name of John was one of the first people to talk to me. He was the starter on the other side of me. He was one of the people that I described earlier, ones that seem to have all the attention around them even when they don’t want it. I quickly realized that just because I knew him, it still didn’t really get me recognized with my other teammates.

One day at practice, during a water break, we were all standing around and John realized that there was a man mowing the baseball field. The baseball field and the practice football field were right next to each other so I am sure everyone had noticed this man was mowing, just no one had paid any attention to him.  John, being the outgoing person that he was, quickly said, “Hey look, it’s Dan’s cousin over there mowing the grass.” At first, I didn’t really know what he was talking about. I had never been a victim of having to deal with racism so I wasn’t sure why everyone was laughing. I played with mainly white kids as that was what the majority of the students that went to my school were, so it seemed as if they were all on the same page.
I later realized that he was making fun of the Mexican race because we are known for being gardeners, landscapers, or outside workers. This was also around the time when it was really common for people to drive over to a Home Depot or a similar store like that and pick up a few Mexican men for the day to help out as laborers. John’s family might have just done this and that was why seeing a Mexican man on a tractor reminded him of this. The more I thought about it, since he had said my cousin, I then thought, “he said that because Mexican families are known for being big families also, that’s why he said it.” For whatever reason he said it, it was meant to reflect in a negative way towards the Mexican race.

Since I didn’t get the joke at first, I never did anything about it. As I got older and more mature, I realized that my fellow teammates made a lot of racist jokes. Many of the jokes that I had to deal with about race were just jokes said as a fun way to make people laugh, mainly about stereotypes. I never thought of it this way, but after John had made that joke, it made people recognize me and more and more people began to know who I was. I wasn’t just known as number sixteen that started at left cornerback, but more of who I was personality wise.

    I never would have thought that a racist joke, which I was too blind to realize was about me, would put my face on the map at school, but it did. Maybe this was John’s intentions all along; for people to know who I was since he had dealt with me already and saw that I was a cool guy. Whatever his intentions were, he helped me meet my second goal that I had for myself in high school.

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