SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2011       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Derek Graffious

The New White Kid

My father was stationed with the military in Utah when I started kindergarten and I went to school there until the end of my fourth grade year. Then we moved to south Ontario, California. Since we had been living on base while my dad was stationed in Utah there was a great deal of diversity at my elementary school. So when I walked in to Mrs. Castaneda’s fifth grade class I noticed that there was not much diversity at all. Out of her 30 students only 5 of us were not Hispanic! The 5 minority students consisted of me, two pacific islanders and two African American students. Before the school year had started I had made close friends with my neighbor, his name was Saul, who was one of the Hispanic students in my class. For the first week or so Saul would always ask me to play soccer with him and a bunch of the other Hispanic students. However, because I had never played before I would always tell him that I was going to do something else. I know that it was because we had become friends before school that he continued to try to get me to play. One day I finally gave in when Saul asked me to go and play soccer with him against the sixth graders.

The summer going into my fifth grade year I had made a new friend named Derek. He had just moved here from a military base in Utah, but he told me he was originally born in California. When classes finally started up I could tell Derek felt a little out of place. I was used to being part of the majority in class because there were more Hispanics than any ethnicity. However, it looked to me as if he was not accustomed to being the only white person in a class. For the whole first week of classes I always tried to get him to play soccer with some of the other kids but he would always say no. I knew that he was having a hard time adjusting to everyone being so different so I continued inviting him. Every week we would face the 6th graders and soccer and I invited Derek again. This time to my surprise he said yes.

During the game no one was passing me the ball and I could not understand why. When someone finally kicked the ball my way I kicked it as hard as I could.

During the game no one was passing Derek the ball because they did not know him. A couple of times I heard some of the ruder kids say in Spanish “make sure you do not pass to the white kid, he isn’t any good.” I finally kicked the ball to Derek because I could tell he was starting to get a little down but then things took a turn for the worse.

Unfortunately a sixth grader named Jose jumped in front of the ball and it collided with his face. He fell to the floor and everyone ran over to him, I felt so bad, blood was splattered all over his face. His friends took him to the nurse’s office and I was left standing in the middle of the field by myself. I could not believe what had just happened. Everyone had already looked at me as the white kid and now this incident would isolate me even more. During recess the next day things got worse. While I was in the bathroom a bunch of Hispanic sixth graders came in and started pushing me around. I tried to get away but there were too many for me to escape. They continued to ridicule me about hurting their friend, and started calling me names in Spanish.

The next day nicknames had already been started for Derek, with none of them being anything pleasant. Some of the few were, “Whitey, white boy, cracker,” and other derogatory names. The one that seemed to stick the most for Derek was Gringo.

I had known that I was one of the few white people in the school but I did not realize that is was an issue. From then on I was known as “gringo” to the majority of the Hispanic students at my school. Almost every day after school a group of Hispanic students followed me home, by either talking crap or trying to fight me. This lasted for the whole school year and even though before the fifth grade I had never been in any kind of physical altercation that year I was in over seven fights.

Derek and I grew closer and he told me that some of the Hispanic students had been following him to his house trying to start fights with him. Many times throughout the year I would be with Derek and the older kids would still harass and call him racist names. Whenever I was with him I also was attacked for hanging out with the white kid. Derek tried to play it off like he did not care but everyone knew that calling him names in Spanish made him upset.

This was during a time that race was playing a major factor in the mentalities of people living in California. In the year of my incident in 2000, over 369 immigrants had died crossing the border in California, with about half of those deaths coming from exposure to heat or cold weather. Since many people in the Hispanic community believed that all white people agree with closing down the border, I learned that I had become the scapegoat to the Hispanic kids who harassed me. They never let me forget that I was White and would never be accepted by them because I was not one of them. It was because of this incident that I slowly started shaping myself to respond to hostile racial situations in a way that was neutral so as to not provoke any hostility between me and kids of other ethnicities.

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