SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2009 Personal Memory Ethnographies
The Pool that Changed My Life
I moved to Monrovia, California in 1996 after living in Pasadena, California for much of my previous 6 years of life. While I continued to receive a private education for two more years, I began attending public school in 1998. Public school was far more different that any other school I had ever gone to. There were many more minorities at this school and while it didn’t happen right away, over the next couple of years racial tension did begin to flare. I began hearing the terms “White-Boy” and “Cracker.” These did not begin to hurt me at first, but over time, I did begin to feel the sting of discrimination.
Both of these cities I lived in are suburbs in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County is one of the biggest counties in the United States with over 12 million people, and a diversity of cultures unlike any in the world. When I began going to school in 1998, Los Angeles County was still recovering from the “L.A. Riots.” These riots were one of the biggest events that caused racial tension in Los Angeles County. In 1992, Rodney King, an African American, was beaten by White police officers and arrested. When the police officers that beat Mr. King were acquitted, the racial tension erupted into the Los Angeles Uprising. This uprising caused millions of dollars of damage and even fatalities. Only four years after this in 1996, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement had just begun and immigration began to increase drastically. As NAFTA opened up new job opportunities, it called to many people living in poverty in Central and South America, and immigration began to rise. In Los Angeles County, I went from being part of the white majority, to being the minority. While the racial tensions were not bad at first, when I began middle school they erupted.
In 2001 when I started school at Santa Fe Middle School, I began hearing and seeing racial tensions on an entirely new level. While gangs where not big in elementary school at all, the gangs in the surrounding area began recruiting kids in middle school. The “Du Rocc Crips” and the “Eastsiders” were among the gangs that were recruiting new members to their causes.
The “Crips” were a notoriously African American gang, and the “Eastsiders” were a Hispanic gang, and as they began to grow, so did their war. These two gangs began attempting new gang activities, and even murders, all over the area of Monrovia. While they hated each other, they did have a common enemy, which were White people. As White people began to become targeted, including myself, I began to feel rage against minorities. I tried to keep to my own and felt that my ideology had come to what I like to call a “forget them" philosophy. This idea was basically the idea that if they were going to be offensive to me, then I would just look the other way and ignore them. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, I would later realize why this created such a problem I never thought possible.
I went on to this philosophy throughout my 6th grade year. Then in 7th grade, a “new kid” came to school by the name of Chris. While I knew Chris was a nice kid, I never really got to know him until one day in gym class. Chris simply walked up to me and said, “Hey Ross, how are you doing today?” Chris was half-White and half-Hispanic, and I think it was because of him, that I began to see people of Hispanic descent in a different light. While I was at first shocked that he had talked to me, knowing that I had gotten into fights with his friends, I replied that I was doing “fine” and continued to ask him “how are you.”
Chris and I began to talk and chat, and I found his life quite interesting. We began talking about our experiences and school, and he told me,
“ I’ve had an interesting life of traveling and seeing the United States where I have learned and seen a lot, but I’ve also had to leave the friendships that I made behind me. You see, my dad works in the hotel business and because of that I have to move every once in a while. I’ve even lived all the way in Florida.”
Chris continued to talk to me and became my friend but I had to believe that at times he thought that I was loud and at times annoying, whereas he was quiet and shy. Chris knew that I had a bit of history of fighting with people in the school. He also knew that because our school was mainly of Latin or Hispanic descent, and I was white, this created even more tension.
About a year into our friendship, Chris surprised me when he asked me, “Do you want to go to my Uncle’s house to go swimming?” While at first I was a little afraid at first because I didn’t know where his uncle lived, I did accept.
As we were going to Chris’s uncle’s house in the bad area of town, where streets were made of dust and houses barely stood, I saw a new world I had never seen before. I think this was Chris' attempt to show me why there was so much tension between races in Monrovia. On one side of town, white people had everything that they could ever ask for, and on the other side, Latinos had nothing. While on my side of the town we had an ice-cream truck, on the bad side they had a “corn cart.”
I was so shocked by the differences between these two sides of town. On the my side of town, houses were huge and grass was green, and on the other, houses barely stood and the streets were made of dust. I began completely rethinking how I saw other people, and this is why the pool event changed my life so much. Chris was a bi-racial minority and showed me a side of life I had never seen. Just by going across the street, Chris showed me how hard life was for other people. I realized how I had many advantages, and minorities did not.
I feel that many racial tensions arise because while civil rights are meant for everyone, White people have completely left minorities behind. White people constantly discuss how to make society better, yet they refuse to help people who need it the most. I feel that we. White people, must look at how many advantages we have because of hundreds of years of civil injustices. We should remember that minorities have only had 40 years to catch up.
This pool incident inspired me to open my mind, and looking back on it, it truly is amazing how much simply swimming at a friend’s house changed my life.
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