SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2009       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Audra Jalbert

The Blissful Age of Ignorance

I’m going to take you back to 1994 to the small town of Kingman, Arizona. It was during this time in this small town at the tender age of eight where the idea of social class importance became a reality in my life.

I was attending Cerbat Elementary School. On one particular day my brother Cody and I were getting ready for school when we realized our mom had forgotten to leave our lunch money before leaving for work. In a panic, Cody came up with a wonderful idea, we'd use the special money that mom kept in the kitchen drawer to pay for our lunches. At the time this seemed like a great idea, mom used the special money at the grocery store to buy food so they must be okay to use at school as well. As Cody and I both took a piece of the colorful money each, him getting the higher denomination because he was older, so he said, we felt delighted with ourselves and ready to head off to school.

Later that day it was time for lunch, my best friend Tamra and I walked into the cafeteria, filled with the aroma of fish sticks and French fries. On this particular day it was my turn to buy chocolate milk for Tamra and I. I was excited to do so since I had got my own special lunch money for the day. As we walked up to the lunch line we carried on about Tamra’s new birthday shoes and how they made her and I the same height now. As we approached the lunch lady I had two chocolate milks in hand, I pulled the colorful paper money from my pocket and handed it to the lunch lady. As she saw the bills I presented to her, a strange look appeared on her face. With her big blue eyes she looked at me for a moment with a look of sympathy. She said, “I’m sorry sweetheart but you can not use food stamps to pay for your chocolate milk.” I just stood and stared for a moment not understanding why. I was thinking my mom buys food all the time at the store with them, why can’t I buy milk with them as well. It only took a few seconds after her saying something for everyone in line to see what was going on. A boy named Travis who was standing behind me started to laugh so loud and hard. He was pointing at me and saying I was too poor to pay for milk. For the rest of the school year Travis would taunt me about my incident and how my family was too poor for this and that. Over this time I began to withdraw from my family and I never went along when it was time to go to the grocery store.

Before that moment occurred I had never looked at myself or family as being poor. I had attached no social stigma to the use of food stamps. Well as life has it, with new experiences come new ideals about life. For me that moment was when I learned there are social classes and they define you and how people in life treat you.

Since this incident I have always carried this stigma, but over time it seems to fade more and more. When asked to write this ethnography this incident was the first to pop into my mind and it wasn’t until the end that I could see why. After researching in greater detail the ideas behind my experience, such as the larger social influences to the food stamps issue of that time, I drew some interesting conclusions. During the time of my incident and years prior the government was placing a social stigma on the use of food stamps, trying in effect to diminish the program and make it a negative thing in our society, much like has been done for many ways of thinking in our U.S. history. From 1994 till the current day to government is finding new inventive ways to cut the programs and give as little help with higher qualifications. The average household to receive food stamps must have no more then 2,000 dollars in resources per month. When you think about the cost of living today this amount is not enough to raise a family, yet the government feels they are not obligated to help unless you are basically starving.

Ideas and are just ideas, opinions just opinions, but when the world believes them for truth they become a weapon for pain. Each of us in the world has been hurt by the different ideas of others, but the key is to find your own ideas and stick with them, to stop listening to the ideas that society tells you to have. No not everyone is going to have the same ways of thinking as you, but don’t think as others in fear of not being accepted. This is what I have learned from this experience in doing this project. It's 15 years later and I have finally found a meaning in someone else's cruelty. No longer can those words nor that incident hurt me, because I have gained from it, grown from it, and now it has a purpose.


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