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

Paulina Tarazon

Play at Your Own Risk

Growing up in a primarily Hispanic town and attending institutions in which everyone was of an equal social class made it harder to broaden my gaze into some of the wider socio-economic differences that are greatly visible today. Tennis was not a popular sport where I grew up and most of the students who tried out for the team had never played tennis. It was an unfamiliar sport that they had to learn in contrast to the other players on the teams we played, who had been playing ever since they could walk.

Prior to joining the tennis team, I never had any kind of training or understanding of the game. I can remember my first day of practice my freshman year at Tolleson Union High School and how I was so excited to learn about tennis. As my coach made his way to the courts, I could tell that he did not share the same excitement that I had. He was an older, overweight man and it was rumored that he was taking on this position as head coach to make extra money along with his teaching salary. The type of equipment we had available was very old and outdated and the uniforms we had to borrow were just as bad. There were not enough funds for the tennis team to purchase new uniforms, so we had to be happy with what we got.

Attending away games was an eye-opener for me especially, because I rarely left town and my understanding of better funded schools compared to mine was limited. I remember noticing a difference in attitude and how the other teams would present themselves. I got a sense of inferiority in response to some of their remarks and snickering about what my team looked like. It felt as if they had dismissed us as opponents from the beginning before knowing our abilities. The prejudices they had about where we came from and what we looked like made me upset and gave me that much more of a motivation to beat them. Their team looked more professional with the name-brand rackets and uniforms which usually matched from their shoes to their bags. I could tell that a lot of money went into having all these luxuries, which the majority of my team’s parents could not afford for their children. We were stuck with out-dated uniforms that we had to rent from the school and were left with the promise of new uniforms next season. Tennis was such a new sport for my teammates and their families did not really care as much to watch them, because most of the time the matches were an easy victory for the other team. The encouragement we should have received from our school and family was usually absent, which lead to a discouraging season for the team.

There was one match in particular that made me realize who I was as a competitor and made me a stronger person. I was playing the number one girl on their team, and from the very beginning she acted as if this was going to be an easy defeat for her. She had the finest equipment and she said she had been playing ever since she could walk. As the match started, I knew what I was up against and had to do my best.

As the girls from Tolleson Union High School stepped off their bus, the first impressions I had were that they were probably lost. There was no way that they could be up against a team like ours and from the way they looked and the equipment they had, I knew this would be an easy win for us. We each had our own tennis bags and rackets which were very expensive and looking at the Tolleson team, I wondered if they had to share rackets or how they even managed to form a team. We made some comments to each other about how they didn’t look like the average tennis player or even like they fit the category of a unified team.

I returned every serve and to her disbelief I was actually beating her. As the match progressed and the score got closer, I could tell she was starting to get frustrated with herself, because there could be no way I was beating her. Her frustration made her mess up numerous times and I used that to my advantage. The way she handled herself was very childish, as the number one player, I felt that she should’ve had more respect for herself and her team. When I was pronounced the winner, she went as far as crying, probably because she was still in shock.

One of the most upsetting losses I ever experienced was today because I let my pride get in the way of the game. I was up against a short Hispanic girl who I assumed knew nothing about the sport. At first I wasn’t taking the match seriously until she started making some points, then I knew I was in trouble. I don’t know if my attitude had something to do with it, but that day I was getting frustrated with myself and the thought of this girl actually beating me. Losing to her was like a disgrace to me, my team, and my parents; who had paid for all my lessons and made sure I had the finest equipment to keep me performing at my best. This day was one I will never forget, because it was an upset for me and for my team.

The experience I and my team had to go through was only one of many struggles that we would have to face at other points in our lives. Being intimidated by the fancy gear they had made me feel less worthy as an opponent because our uniforms and equipment did not match theirs. This feeling of inferiority has had a lasting effect on me and has made me realize some of the differences in class and race which minorities have to struggle for in order to be considered worthy. The fact that I nonetheless beat my privileged opponent also showed me that it takes more than fancy equipment and the type of character a person possesses is the true measurement of the game.

When this incident took place, I was mature enough to recognize some of the privileges we fell short of and the stereotypes we would have to face at the time. Still to this day, I feel I have to prove myself to this privileged class that marks my gender and race as being the “other.” Every day we witness a top-down form of power, whether it is in education or politics which only aims to conserve what has been created and keep those in power remain, while the majority of others are struggling to get to the top.

My incident remains in my mind today, because I was a part of something bigger than myself. I was able to defeat the number one player on my opposing team without having the best equipment or training to back it up. It was more of a test of character and attitude, rather than what background I came from. This has shown me to not be discouraged when faced in a situation such as this, because anything is possible and having confidence in yourself can lead to an unforeseen defeat.


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