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

Written and told by
Brooke Bennett

When a can meant so much more than mealtime

        The year was 1997 and I was in the 7th grade. There I was, sitting in the cafeteria in my middle school with my group of friends.  My middle school was predominately Hispanic but I won’t say there weren’t too many of us Caucasians in the mix, because there were.  My group of friends where just like me, white.

    My friend “Dana” and the four of us were at the round table in the cafeteria eating and chatting away. Dana was a heavy set girl who spoke her mind. All five of us were like peas and carrots, we were close and pretty much never hung out with anyone else at lunch time. Dana, I would call our fearless leader; however we knew she wasn’t the best liked girl in our grade, for so many reasons, enough to write a book on.

    Now, time to talk about a real-life high school drama featuring my loyal group of five and two Hispanic girls. There we sat, laughing and chatting away, eating that nasty and stale tasting cafeteria food. When I took a brief look around the cafeteria, I saw two Hispanic girls approaching our table, with the look of trouble. You know the kind of look and probably have witnessed it once or twice yourself. It has the word “Bully” written all over its face, and along with the look is the walk. Its walk you can put in a suspense movie, with the girls walking in really-slow motion and you can hear the music of “Jaws” in the background. The two girls walked up exactly like sharks when approaching the table and the leader of the group of two handed Dana a can of dog food and said something along the lines of “eat more of this whitey.” Written with a black marker on this canned dog food were the words “Bark bark” in big block letters. The two girls walked back to the table at the far end of the room and the students at that table looked as if they were very much enjoying the current situation. We could hear outrageous laughing from the big group.  The girls looked at each other while laughing but were trying not to stare at my dear friend at the same time. They weren’t too good at it, because I noticed the whites of their eyes just sending imaginary beams of light at “Dana.”

    Why (besides out of the sometimes cruel intentions typical teenagers) would these girls do something like this in the first place? Just like all high school drama, news spreads quickly and you eventually find out what caused such an outrage where a girl would even think of giving canned dog food to a person.

    The story continues, but let’s reverse time and go back to before the cafeteria incident, about two weeks before. My loyal group of five and I were are in English class and goofing around. My friend showed us a picture of two Hispanic girls, who in the picture shaved their eyebrows and drew them back on with a sharpie (it was an advertisement for sharpie pens). The advertisement line was “Never give a Hispanic a sharpie.”  We laughed and giggled a lot. We didn’t realize who was listening to us. So it wasn’t the greatest joke in the world, but it was a basic stereotype of the year about how Hispanics overdo it on their makeup. I’m not exactly sure how that is a stereotype, but I’m pretty sure it translated into the word “slutty.”

    Slutty? And white girls aren’t slutty and put on eye make up? That is why Dana rubbed me the wrong way. She and that group of people she hangs around. A bunch of “whiteys” laughing at a lame advertisement that doesn’t even represent the Hispanic population. It’s simple why I gave Dana that canned dog food;  it was a joke right back at her. She can laugh at our “eyebrows” all she wants, but I am not the one with eating problems. The canned dog food represents her animal- like attitude toward us and the “bark bark” I labeled on the canned food (I thought it was quite clever, I used a sharpie pen too) was how I hear her laugh, like a dog. Sure, I could have ignored her and that clan, but how would my point be addressed if I never did? Those “whiteys” are invading our area and have no respect. I’m sure she will have more respect for us later on in her life after she lives with us for a while.

    Never in my right mind would I think of using canned dog food being used to describe feelings because of a small joke between friends. Seriously, what happened to going up to a person and telling them how it is? That’s the way it worked for most of my high school life. And then that person would automatically be labeled “the bitch, “ which in itself is funny because in our situation, we would all be the “bitches” too, since we didn’t think anyone would have feelings towards our laughing joke. What I like to call the “canned food disaster,” was always replayed in my head and is the main reason I chose this incident. Never would I realize how wrong we were for making such an inappropriate comment and I never can forget how someone could give a human being canned dog food. This was a time when Hispanics were a growing population in our country and this middle school was extremely different to me. I experienced more diversity in that middle school than I did my whole life. Military families grow up together and mostly, were Caucasian (In my childhood anyways). If I could pick out one incident where I finally noticed I was in a new area and diverse population, this would be the one, mostly because we white girls did think differently about Hispanics. We were wrong and I’m glad I can admit that.

Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage