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

Matthew Samuel

Alone in a Crowd

Throughout the years I have had a number of friends of many different ethnicities. My parents always taught me the importance of getting to know someone by their personality, not by the color of their skin. I grew up in Los Angeles and if you were to take a look at all my class pictures throughout my schooling you would see a mixture of many races. During the summer prior to my freshmen year of high school my parents and I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona. Without any doubt it was a huge culture shock at first, but after a while I noticed that this small town wasn’t that much different from the big city. I joined the football team, which helped me meet a lot of people.

A few months went by and I began to make a lot of friends. One friend that I made seemed to be well liked by other students in the school. His name was Alex and he was a Native American. I can’t remember ever meeting any Native Americans in L.A. The only Indians that I knew were from India. Alex introduced me to many of his friends, many whom I still talk to. Alex had a lot of friends who weren’t Native Americans. Some of them were African American, Hispanics, one guy from Taiwan, and a couple of white guys. I remember thinking that was huge mix of races. Even when I lived in LA I didn’t hang out with such a diverse crowd.

One day after school Alex introduced me to his girlfriend. She invited us to a party that upcoming weekend. I was still a little young, only fourteen at the time, and I had never been to a party such as the one she invited me to. What was in store for me was far different than what I imagined. Alex told me I would have a lot of fun at this party, and that he has been to many parties with his girlfriend. I asked my parents if I could go with Alex to this party, and they said yes.

The week went by and Friday had arrived. Alex told me that he would pick me up at my house around seven. Seven came and Alex showed up, I jumped in the car and I noticed that there were four other guys in the car and they were all Native Americans. As we were driving the guys were taking about how great this party was going to be. One guy talked about how nice it was outside, perfect for a party. I asked him why does the weather matter and he said because the party is outside in the middle of the woods. In about ten minutes we arrived at the party.

As I stepped out of the car I noticed there were about two hundred people there, none of whom I recognized. Soon after that I also noticed that all two hundred of them were Native Americans and I was the only White boy. I can still remember even to this day how afraid I felt. A lot of the girls came right up to me. They seemed to really enjoy my company. On the other hand a lot of the guys didn’t like that I was there and they kept staring my way. Alex came up to me a few minutes later with a huge smile. He was laughing at the fact I was the only White guy there. We had become good friends at this point so I asked him if I should be worried about being scalped. He laughed at that and told me not to worry. Alex was the big guy on campus and everyone knew it.

That party was the first time I had ever experienced being looked down upon for being White. I felt very uncomfortable. Being the only White person there was odd. I had never felt out of place due to the color of my skin prior to this event. Not only that, many of the guys there for sure wanted to kick my ass. I often think about that time. This was a very important event in my life. I guess I had been very naive to think racism wasn’t that big of an issue any more, after that night I discovered it was. I wonder what Alex’s memory of this event was like.

[Sitting in Art class I see this tall White kid who seemed to not know many people. I knew he was on the football team so I decided to go up to him. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Matt. Weeks went by and I became friends with Matt. Matt and I had many classes together. My first impression of him was different than other Whites guys I have known. At the time I was a sophomore and he was a freshmen. One Friday afternoon at the end of the day, Matt and I were hanging out talking when my girlfriend invited us both to a party. The types of parties my girlfriend usually invited me to were only for Native Americans like us. I couldn’t wait to see Matt’s face once he realized this, so I decided not to tell him.

Later that night some other Native American friends and I picked up Matt at his house. I had already told my friends that Matt had no idea what was in store for him, and they thought it was funny. We arrived at the party and the first thing out of Matt’s mouth was “what in the hell is this”. I couldn’t stop laughing. But not much time went by before I began to notice that many of the men didn’t like having White boy at their party. But I was known as a person not to mess with, so once people realized Matt was with me they laid off. I told Matt not to worry. He started cracking racial jokes, I remember him asking me to do a rain dance so that the party would end. I laughed and called him powder. This was something we did a lot with each other. I guess we were both raised to have some type of prejudice toward certain cultures, we handled it by telling jokes. To this day I really don’t know how he felt. I guess it’s the same way I felt when I went to parties with all whites. Matt handled himself well. Many whites that I knew wouldn’t have. I knew I would be able to play this joke on him. In order for me to become friends with a white boy I had to see his reaction by being surrounded by Indians.

This was the first time I had ever been to a party out in the middle of the woods. The air was cold and little breezy, typical of Flagstaff in October. The area had the strong smell of campfire but that smell battled the smell of cigarettes and marijuana. There were people everywhere. One group played loud rap music from one of their trucks while another group played hard rock. It seemed that they were competing to see who had the loudest stereo. Laughter and loud talking over the music made it impossible to think. As I made my way around the party I began to hear an unfamiliar sound, a language I had never heard before. The language was Navajo and many of the people there spoke it.

About an hour went by when females started asking me questions. Many sounded odd, the way they spoke English was unfamiliar and it didn’t help that many of them were drunk. The sight and beer smell of many of these girls didn’t appeal to me. I recall thinking to myself that some of the girls are pretty but after a few drinks many started acting foolishly. While I was thinking, all of a sudden the sounds of men yelling overtook the party. This yelling was followed by two men rolling around on the ground. As I was watching this I began hearing a lot of arguments. It was from the two sides which earlier had been competing over which stereo was loudest. Alex ran up to me and said let’s go and I gladly agreed.

Back in 1995 when I was only fifteen this event molded me in many ways and helped make me the man I am today. Having been raised to always look past the color of a person’s skin, this was the first time I had to face adversity alone. Growing up in California most of the time my parents kept close tabs on me. Once I moved to Arizona and entered high school what I was taught at home began to be tested.

Throughout the years I have experienced situations similar to that one, like the time when I was the only white in a room full of African Americans. I had a black friend named Jamar and one weekend we hung out and ended up at another one of his friend’s house. There I was again the only white. I fully believe that experiencing these situations early in my life helped make the man I am today. I had been oblivious to racism. Having been raised to ignore color in others made me a bit naïve.

The reason why this situation stuck out so much even to this day is due to my daughter who is just six months old, as a young man I did a lot and learned a lot. I want to teach my children how to handle events such as this. I know I can teach my children not to judge color, but they must understand racism is out there, and may always be and not to ignore it.

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