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

Matt Osterhold

How Society Tells You Who You Are

From birth to eleven I lived in a very tiny house with my family in South Phoenix. As a kid I never understood much about social class and where my family was located in it. I guess when I was young I didn’t think about such things. I only worried about playing with my friends and having fun. During this time my mother did not work and my father had recently started his new business that was based out of our house. He had quit his job as a commercial realtor the day I was born. When I was eleven we moved out to a new bigger house where I was amazed that I finally had my own room. I didn’t really understand it but I loved it. It was a nicer house, bigger and the neighborhood was not run down, plus every house had green grass. I recall my best friends realization of our status.

I remember when Matt moved from our block into his new house where he had his own room and big green grass backyard. I was still living on the old block in South Phoenix in the same room as my sister. I wondered why his family had a house that was much bigger than ours and when we were going to move to a new bigger house so I could have my own room. I remember when I first spent the night at his new house and how nice it was. Wood floors, green grass and multiple bathrooms.

When I figured out the major difference, the one thing that separated my best friend and I, it was something I knew I would never forget. We were always the same, equal, one. All of a sudden society had made us two different people. Not only that but our families were now different, we were seen as better, wealthier and richer. That is why this memory is so vibrant in my mind. I can picture all different aspects of it like they were right in front of me. A select group of people had made this false class system that means nothing and decides nothing except a certain mindset. It is façade, where we are supposed to look at each other as different, one class being better than the other.

Around the age of sixteen I began to realize that my family was becoming wealthier. My father’s business began making enough money and my mom went back to being a teacher. We started going on more trips and I got nicer things for Christmas and my birthday than I had ever gotten before. I didn’t understand this social class change until I learned about such things in school much later. But I really began to notice it when the kids I grew up with didn’t live in a house as big as mine. Their parents were always talking about the debt they had and the house and car payments that prevented them down from going on vacation. This was new to me and when I asked my dad of these things and why I had never heard him or my mother talk about them his simple reply was, “we don’t have debt.” But at the same time my friends were doing the same thing. This is my best friends thoughts.

The time finally came and was told we were moving to a new house. It was a friend’s house so I didn’t know it then but we were getting helped out by him. The house was nice, overall bigger. I thought that we had reached a level similar to Matt’s family and it was a good feeling. As time went on I realized how much help we where getting from the family friend and that we were not as wealthy as I figured. I later realized the difference, my mother no longer worked and my parent’s use of money was not the wisest. Overall my parents made less money than Matt’s and were not good at budgeting. My sister figured this out during her time at ASU as an accountant. We had car payments and I remember my dad being very excited when he bought my sister’s first car, he said it was all paid for and had no payments. I just remember thinking Matt’s family has never had a car payment. These are things that I realized once I was older. As kids you do not see class with your friends and their families but with age and time the difference appears.

This is a more than a memory, it’s a testament to what I have become. I am someone who chose’s friends not by their race, religion or class, but rather by who they are. Arthur and I both realized this and decided that a friendship is a friendship and it’s something class cannot decide. This attitude has made my life full of people who are sincere and real to me. They do not lie or act differently in hopes of getting my acceptance. It seems at times people will try to make friends with someone because they are wealthy or drive a nice car or have a nice house. Arthur and I will never judge a relationship off of that. We have built our friendship off of the core roots on who we really are.

The scope of this event and the way it made me is why it is so important to me and will always stay in my mind. I will never forget my first dash of difference. I never looked at the difference of things. With age you see this ‘difference’ and you start to realize how awful it can be. It can destroy relationships and build hate in people. So I believe this incident has made me a better person in realizing that we are all different in our own ways and it’s not a bad thing. Just a thing we must understand.


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