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

Jane Weber


I asked Sarah recently if she remembered our dreadful days in Elementary School where some of the boys harassed us in our class. She shook her head despondently and said, “Those boys are the reason why I moved back to Europe.”

To explain my story, I have to explain some of the history surrounding our predicament. All of my life prior to my 6th grade year, my grandmother made it a point to teach my family and I about our Polish heritage. She was very proud of her Polish ancestry and wanted to make sure we did not lose that culture. Unbeknownst to me, my grandmother was hiding a little family secret. It turns out our family is also Russian. My grandmother and her brothers were told not to tell anyone that they are Russian by my great-grandfather shortly after the start of the Cold War. My great-grandfather feared that his family would be ostracized and harassed by the rest of the community if they found out that we have a Russian background also. My grandmother never told a soul until my 6th grade year in 1998. By this time, the cold war had been over for almost a decade, and she felt that it was safe to, “come out of hiding”.

Right around this time, a new girl with a European accent started attending my Elementary School. At first, all of the kids were fascinated by her and her accent. They wanted to know all about the foreign land she came from. Sarah was a Muslim refugee from the Bosnian Civil War. Like Russia, Bosnia was a communist country. The curiosity soon wore off. There were three boys in our class who harassed Sarah about the fact that she was Bosnian daily. When I would walk from class to class with Sarah, we just tried our best to ignore the taunts and harassment she faced from them. I would occasionally give them a dirty look or shake my head disapprovingly at them when they would call her “Commie” or hiss at her while we were walking in the hallways.

It became increasingly difficult to ignore the harassment after my eighth grade year when they started targeting their harassment towards me also. During the first day of our eighth grade civics class, our teacher was lecturing about how we are living in the “American Melting Pot” and that everyone had very different backgrounds. He proceeded to ask each student what his or her heritage was. When it was my turn, I confidently told the entire class which countries my family came from. Once the three boys heard Russia, the taunts started immediately. I looked over and saw the boys making the “cross” symbols with their fingers and hissing at me the same way they did to Sarah for the last 2 years. For the rest of our eighth grade year, Sarah and I would walk down the hallways silently with our heads down and tried our best to ignore the boys that would call the both of us “Commie”, make cross symbols with their fingers and point them at us, and hiss at us.

During a recent conversation with Sarah she said, “I hate the United States, and especially the state of Arizona. There are too many bad memories there. I had to get out of there.” Sarah has never mentioned if she was harassed for being Muslim while living here, but after the recent shootings in Texas, I’m sure that her faith might have been something she was harassed for also after 9/11. We have both been concerned about Anti-Muslim hate crimes being committed here in the states.

I learned a lot from that experience. I’ve always thought that this incident was ironic in a way. Being a certain ethnicity or race is something that is beyond our control. Some people are not fortunate enough to be able to hide their background and they do not have the option of choosing whether to disclose their background or not due to their physical features that give it away. If it had not been for Sarah’s different accent, and my disclosure of my family background the boys would have left us alone. We would have been your average, middleclass white girls.


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