SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2011 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Not Mexican Enough:
It’s Not Where You’re From - It’s Where You’re At
I was only four years old when my parents told me we were moving to El Norte. I didn’t want to go and barricaded myself under the kitchen table with all the chairs tucked in. I lost the battle and woke up in a truck knowing I was leaving my home. I was unaware that in 1988 the minimum wage in California had been raised from $3.35 to $4.25, all I knew was that I was leaving my grandparents and Tia Luisa behind. I had never been to school nor did I have friends outside my family so I didn’t have an established life, only opportunities which were now bigger than the small town I was leaving behind.
My family and I lived in California for six years and in 1994 Proposition 187 was introduced and I learned what it was to be an immigrant. Proposition 187 was the initiative to establish a screening system to prohibit illegal immigrants access to health care, public education and other social services in California. At the same time my dad accepted a job opportunity in Arizona and a classmate asked me if I was moving because I was illegal. We moved to downtown Phoenix where I again had to readjust to a new life. Everyone in downtown Phoenix looked like me and there were only a few people who were not Mexican. In seventh grade I particularly remember the whole school only having two white classmates who were brother and sister. They got picked on by everyone else for being white. The rest of the school was a mixture of African Americans and predominately Mexicans. I adjusted quickly and soon knew all the kids in the neighborhood and where they lived because we rode the bus together. There was nothing I loved more than riding my skateboard and visiting all my friends until the street lights came on and I rushed to get home.
“Delia, sientate.” One day when I got home from school my parents were waiting for me in the living room. I sat down as they requested and was told I had to pack because the decision had been made that we were moving to Phoenix Arizona for a better life. By the end of the week I left all my friends that I had known since I started kindergarten to relearn everything I had been taught in a different language. I was thrown in eighth grade in a different country and the only comfort I had was the classmates who shared the same background. We were all from Mexico and had only recently moved to the United States so we were all struggling to fit in. Whenever I started a new class I would try to sit next to someone that knew Spanish so that they could help me and I could have someone to talk to. The friends I met during classes were also the friends that I ate lunch with and walked home with. My friends and I formed our own small community in school where we could speak our own language and helped each other make it through the adjustment of life we were all going through.
I decided one day to skip yearbook in order to play basketball with my friends. When the bell rang I then had lunch again and walked around awkwardly trying to find someone that I knew.
The first group of familiar faces I saw was a group of Mexican eighth graders that decided not to go back to class and stay through the seventh grade lunch. I knew who they were and they knew me as well. But we weren’t necessarily friends. I had Delia in two of my classes and had already been introduced to the rest of the group in one way or the other. As I approached them I hear them say the name of a girl who wasn’t at school that day and as I got closer and they noticed me, their conversation stopped abruptly. They all smiled and said hello and I asked them that I didn’t know they had the second lunch. They stated that they didn’t, but weren’t going to go to class. I told them this was my regular lunch hour as I sat down and quickly regretted it when I realized that was pretty much the end of our conversation and I felt like an intruder in their circle. They liked speaking Spanish and although I knew how to speak it, I was not as fluent as they were so I would sometimes struggle with some words I would have to say in English. Thankfully a girl from yearbook walked by and said hello to me asking why I wasn’t in class. I told her I had decided to take lunch instead and asked where she was headed. She told me she was going to go play volleyball and invited me to go as well. Knowing that they wouldn’t agree to it I asked Delia and her friends if they wanted to go and they declined. At this point the polite thing to do would have been to decline for the whole group so they wouldn’t be offended, but I decided they weren’t doing anything anyway so I might as well go play volleyball.
One day I was at lunch with my friends when the bell to return to class rang. We decided it was such a nice day that we would stay for the second lunch hour as well. There was nothing particularly important going on in class anyway. My friends and I were sitting in the lunch tables outside talking about one of our mutual friends that was absent that day. She was having family problems and because of it was not in class. I felt someone looking at me so I looked up and saw this girl Marcela walking in our direction. I smiled, which got the rest of the girls to turn around to see who I was smiling at. She walked up and decided to join our group. I don’t think she knew what was going on with our friend so I didn’t want to continue talking about it. We didn’t really talk to Marcela outside of class so we didn’t really have much to talk about. She asked us what we were doing and informed us that she had been playing basketball. In our culture sports are not considered ladylike so we abstain from them unless we absolutely have to. We wouldn’t want to be the topic of discussion or embarrass our families by being too forward, that is for boys and sometimes for girls who live in the city, but not for us small town girls. My parents always remind me that I am not a “gringa” and should not act crazy like the white kids, I should maintain my culture and remember where I come from.
We were all sitting there not saying much when a girl Marcela knew walked by and said hello. She was a white girl she apparently had class with and asked Marcela if she wanted to play volleyball. Marcela had the nerve to ask us if we wanted to join and we all declined of course. We’re not like that; we’re not going to run around like a bunch of idiots- for what? How embarrassing. It was obvious Marcela wanted to go but wanted us to give her the go ahead and that’s why she asked us if we wanted to join. We didn’t tell her to go ahead, but she decided to go anyway. She traded us in for the white girl, just like she was trading in her culture and was slowly forgetting Spanish. Girls like her are dubbed “pochas”. They claim to be Mexican when they need it, but have forgotten their heritage and where they came from in order to fit in with the white people in the United States.
I didn’t feel very welcome at the table with Delia and her friends who were sitting there gossiping until I came and joined them, so I was looking for an out that my friend from yearbook provided. I kind of felt bad because I knew the girls would be offended but they weren’t necessarily trying too hard to socialize with me. When the girls were alone they were friendly with me, but it seemed the second a group gathered they were in solidarity and expected everyone to act as if we still lived in Mexico. Though I was born in Mexico, I have lived most of my life in the United States. I never got formal education in Spanish and because of it my fluency is not like theirs. I have to first think in English and translate to Spanish where as they do the opposite to speak English. After that day I heard from another friend that the Mexican girls had started talking about me saying that I thought I was better than they were because I knew how to speak English better and had white friends. I wanted to be their friend, but I didn’t want to be expected to act a certain way or choose them over other friends. I talked to everyone, Mexican or not as long as they were nice, but it seemed as if I just wasn’t Mexican enough to join their group. I still talked to them individually, but when they turned into “Little Mexico” I avoided them altogether.
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