SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2011 Personal Memory Ethnographies
The One Experience I Didn’t Want in College
For all my life I grew up in the same community with the same neighbors and the same understanding of what I thought was cultural diversity and acceptance. I grew up in Southern California in a city called San Dimas; although it was a city, it had a small town feel to it that I had grown to enjoy and now appreciate. Even though San Dimas itself was a majority white community, as far as I observed its community welcomed different cultures and diverse ways of life openly. This way of living allowed me to become naïve to the world outside of my community. I had thought that the United States had moved past judging others or at the least had started to accept other people’s culture, way of living, color, etc. My naïve thoughts were about to get a rude awaking as I moved to college to start a new chapter in my life at Arizona State University’s West Campus.
It was move-in week and the feeling of that week not only by me but also by every other freshman was excitement, nervousness, and the slight feeling of homesickness. Like everyone else I too was trying to make new friends and meet new people. One of the many new people I met I will here call Greg Kingmen, also a new incoming freshmen and the person who changed my understanding of what I thought America had overcome. From the very beginning the look on Greg’s face said so far the people here are not my type, but I guess I should be nice to them.
Greg Kingmen seemed like everyone else in that he was looking for new people and new friends, but unlike everyone he would start to insult others, as conversations grew further. At first thought I did not attribute his insult to anything more than that of a bully, but later the insults began to bring race and social economic status in the equation. In the beginning I sat back and watched and heard rumors of what he would tell others. I heard comments such as “you’re poor, you won’t finish school; you’re black, you are probably just going to join a gang,” and he even asked the legal status of a student with brown skin.
After an exhausted day of moving into the dorm in 110-degree weather, all the freshmen were corralled into the La Sala ballroom for an “all hall meeting.” The ballroom was full of loud, excited, nervous, and exhausted freshmen who had done a whole lot of moving in and unpacking. After a long day in the unfamiliar Arizona heat, I became thirsty and that is when rumors of Greg Kingmen being racist were transformed into an experience I witnessed first hand.
When I asked a friend for a quarter for a drink because I was short some change I heard Greg Kingmen say very obnoxiously “ it’s you Mexicans who make this country dirty.” Due to all the commotion, the room was so loud I had to ask again what he said, and without any hesitation he said again “it’s you Mexicans who make this country dirty.” I usually do not take offence to rude comments, but this was the first time that I had ever been talked down to because of my ethnicity and the color of my skin. From the moment Greg Kingmen made the comment to me, the rest of the day was a blur. All I could focus on was his comment; nothing else mattered to that day. I really wished that I could have moved on, but the scenario played back in my head like a movie on repeat. I cannot speak for others, but I could see that he seemed not to regret speaking his mind and he felt more confident because he had gotten away with it in front of all the people who sat nearby.
After the incident happened between Greg Kingmen and I, my naïve way of thinking drastically changed. I was in a sort of culture shock, or it was another form of shock that cannot be easily explained. I could not shake it; the comment itself was a very hateful, demeaning comment:“ It’s people like you who make our country dirty.” To infer that my race is dirt was very hurtful. I believe that this comment would to stick to anyone, not just a naïve person like I was.
I grew up a Latino in a white society where I conformed to white ways; the white standard is the social norm, so I was ignorant to the fact that racism was all around me. If I had became aware of this before the incident, I think that the shock and trauma would not have hit me so hard and the incident may have only left a superficial wound instead of the deep wound that would leave a nasty scar.
I am not saying that if I had been prepared that I would forget the memory, because the memory itself was hurtful to my culture and myself. I am slowly learning to cope with the memory because now I understand that I was not personally attacked and that I am not alone. I have learned through the reading books such as “White Privilege,” that it's not me or race that makes this country “dirty”, it is the idea that many whites like Greg Kingmen have, that they are more superior than others because of their race, whether the thought is conscious or not.
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