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

Cinthia Valenzuela

The Day I Became The Other

    The day I became the other would be a day that I would never forget.  It was in my first year of college, I was the first one of my family to ever attend to a four-year college and I was feeling very proud of it. As a new student I was living in the dorms, which was a great way to meet new people and to get to know the campus better.  One day it all changed and I became aware of race and social status that the color of your skin represents in the United States, the day I became the other.   As I was having lunch with some friends at the University Student Union we were all having a conversation in Spanish, these seem so natural given that we were all Hispanic and Spanish is our native language.  To me it was all very pleasant because Spanish is my native language and being able to talk in Spanish was very refreshing given that my roommate did not speak any Spanish and in most of my classes I was one of the few Hispanic students. 

    As my friends and I were having lunch, we were talking to one of the ladies who worked in the student union. The student union always seemed like a very inviting place to hang out with friends or to study. It was the kind of place where you can go and study, grab something to eat, hang out, and even take a nap all at the same time.  The student union represented a place were everyone can relax and forget about homework, test or any other stress that school may have in a student.  It was a great place to make new friends, drink a cup of coffee or play billiard in the underground arcade, in other words it was a good place to have fun at school in a safe environment.  

     The lady to whom we were talking coincidently was Hispanic, so we were all speaking in Spanish. However to our surprise this was not pleasant to another student who made a remark that would stay with me for the rest of my life. He said in a joking manner “If they want to speak Spanish they should go and work in the kitchen with their family. After all this is America and everyone should speak English.” At that moment the comment made me very upset and I could not help but wonder what would make a person say such an ignorant and mean comment. Why was this happening if so many times before we had held conversations in Spanish and no one had ever complained about this being unpleasant? Or it was maybe because people try so hard to be politically correct now a days that they keep such comments to themselves.  It was then that I remembered what other people had said before, comments that before had never had an impact on me and that I had always considered ignorant, things such as “you are in America, speak English.” Or “If you want to speak Spanish go back to your country.” And every single time people would say a thing like that I would always tell myself. “This is my country, I was born here.” Or I would respond with a comment such as "This was Mexico before the Americans took it."  However I could not help but to wonder why it is so difficult for people to accept people from other cultures, with different languages and beliefs. What leads people to believe that some are superior to others just because of the color of their skin?  

As time passed I began to learn more and more about the history of United States, it was very surprising to me to learn of the anti-immigrant sentiment that has existed in this country since its founding.  I also learned about all of the anti-immigrant laws and movements that have been passed to make the life of immigrants more difficult in this country, policies such as prop 187 in California during the 1980's and proposition 300 in 2006 in Arizona, all of this with a single intention to make the lives of the immigrants more difficult and eventually make them return to their home country.

    As I learned more information on the subject I began to realize why this person had said what he said; it was the result of years of anti-immigrant sentiment in this country, the result of a culture of hate, ignorance and stereotypes engrained in the American culture. For decades immigrants have been viewed as a hazard to the country, an economical problem imposed on the United States by the third world countries that cannot produce enough jobs to sustain their economies, and as a consequence their citizens migrate abroad.  It was then when I realized that this person made those comments out of pure ignorance, and in some way it was not his fault. It was part of the culture for such a long time that people have accepted comments of this kind as normal or just as a joke.

     However to be able to make the United States become a better society we must learn to respect other cultures and not judge them just because we might not understand the language or the religion.  The American society has to begun to understand that is not homogenous any more and it has become a place of gathering for cultures from all over the world where tolerance has to be practiced to be able to continue to progress in the future.   

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