SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2011 Personal Memory Ethnographies
I grew up in a pretty nice neighborhood where all the kids went to the same school from kindergarten until high school. We all lived near one another and grew up together. I never really felt “different” until I was a little older. I met this guy in high school. We had your typical high school romance. He was a few years older and he was “cool”. He was in a band, had long hair, and was covered in tattoos. The relationship between us was very rocky. I was a decent student and I played sports. I was doing what I needed to do so I could one day go to college. The last grade he completed was his sophomore year of high school. Fights between us were very heated and sometimes almost violent. During these arguments, or physical altercations, he would always say “you deserve this; you brought this on yourself, if you weren’t like your mom, and I’d treat you different”. I was young and thought this was love and I had always heard love hurts, but I never thought it would be l like this. We dated for almost four years but I never met his parents until after about two years. I always thought that maybe his parents were like him; angry, aggressive, violent. Maybe he loved me enough to keep me away from people like them. I never said anything but finally I asked him, why I was never invited over for dinner. He said it’s because I wasn’t “all white”. All white? What does that mean? Basically his parents had an issue with me being half white and half Mexican. It bothered his parents so much that they never even spoke about me when people in his family brought me up. He told me that they made me out to be trash or scum, that he could do better because Mexican women are normally whorish trash. He explained to me that his mom and dad had bad experiences with Mexicans. I guess those guys ruined it for the rest of us? I finally told him that I think his parents should give me a chance. I told him to “man up” and tell his parents that I was not whorish trash and that I was worthy of meeting since I had been taking care of their son for almost two years. They agreed to finally meet me.
I walked in to their home and felt a wave of tension come over me. Trying to be a polite person, I walked up to his mother with a smile on my face and held my hand out to introduce myself. She stared at my hand as if I had the plague and said hi. Introducing myself to his dad was even more uncomfortable. I walked over to his dad, who was sitting in a lounge chair and said as politely as I could with my hand extended out, “Hello, my name is Monique, nice to finally meet you.” He looked me up and down like a prized cow going for slaughter. At dinner I offered to help but it seemed my “half- breed” germs might contaminate the food. I couldn’t believe they would treat me like that. Even my boyfriend, treated me like his parents did. He made fun of me and spoke down to me. He wouldn’t even hold my hand. After dinner was over I thanked them kindly for dinner. They said nothing and closed the door. I walked alone to my car. I started to cry immediately. I just couldn’t understand why they would treat me as if I was scum just because I am biracial. It made me think about the relationship I was in. Maybe this wasn’t worth it? I should be with someone who loves me just as I am. Being a young female, I figured I could fix him and help him understand that I was fine just as I am and that he would love me just like this, hopelessly thinking I could change him.
When I got back to my side of town I felt more at ease. I met up with my friends and felt accepted. Michelle, who has been my closest and dearest friend, gave me the lecture on what a piece he is. She told me I could do better and to move on with my life. Like a young, co-dependent female, in love for the first time, I spoke with him and told him I would leave and be done. He convinced me to stay with him and try to make this work. I never stepped foot in his parents’ house again. I never saw them again. After two years of hard work in high school, playing sports, making new friends and growing with my old ones, I called it quits, for good. About a week after graduation, I was accepted into Glendale Community College to play softball. I explained that I did not need him, his negatively racist family, or his lack of drive in my life anymore. We went our separate paths.
Looking back at this relationship I realized that he treated me differently because of my ethnicity. He did not see me as an equal because I was of mixed race. I was scum in the eyes of his parents. In my entire life I had never felt like that. I am glad I have moved forward and have never been made to feel different for any reason. Even though I thought I was the only one affected by him and his family’s treatment, when I looked at the world around me and I found that I wasn’t the only one that has been affected by his family actions. Throughout my tumultuous relationship, another person I knew who was affected by this was a friend of ours named Gabe. Gabe had known my ex- boyfriend for many years. He was Native American and Mexican. He was the singer in their band and was a big support to me when I decided to grow up and move on. Gabe met my ex-boyfriend when they were in high school. They were two trouble makers and they hardly went to class. Gabe wanted to always try and do better but peer pressure from my ex- boyfriend was normally abusive and combative. Gabe was never allowed over or invited to come inside his house. When I began to date my ex-boyfriend, we always came to my house. Movie nights, video games, band practices were always at my house. Recordings were done at my house and taken straight to my ex-boyfriend's computer at his mom and dad’s house for editing. The band always made fun of Gabe for having a limp. “Cripple, Red Skin, and Scratch back” were very common names for Gabe when he was not interested in mischief with his band mates.
I only noticed these things when our relationship fell apart. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one being treated like Gabe. After about a year of constant teasing and being made fun of for being Mexican, Gabe and I began to build a relationship. A secret friendship, of course. We were able to bond together and retaliate back from the vicious tongue lashing we received when my ex-boyfriend didn’t get his way. When the three of us were together we had the best time. We laughed and we all were treated equally. I was given affection like any normal girlfriend and Gabe was the best friend. Being called a crippled wetback was never in the cards for him when just us three were together. But on Wednesday nights, we feared band practice where we were treated like scum. The other band members couldn’t understand why we stuck around. There was something about my ex I loved and something about a childhood friendship that was hard to throw away. We were both young and immature and didn’t realize our self- worth.
After the years went by, Gabe and I realized that we are worth more. We are mixed raced people and that’s just who we are. No one can take our culture, beliefs and attitudes away from us, no matter how much he teased us. Shortly after the break up, I received a phone call from Gabe. Gabe encountered my ex-boyfriend’s family at a local Wal-Mart. They gave him dirty looks, snickered at and made fun of him. He wasn’t able to introduce himself. He calmly walked away and realized that a good and true friendship should not be a secret and that his real friend wouldn’t have allowed him to be treated that way just because he was a different race. Over the years of abuse, I always question why we stuck around. I knew my reason. I was young and dumb and very much in love. But Gabe, could have made better friends. No one can really see why some people put up with treatment like that. We were young and blind and didn’t see what was really going on. We got smart and grew up. We both moved on and it was for the better but those images, thoughts, sounds will always be with me.
For example, certain aromas still trigger my unpleasant memories of that fateful dinner with my ex's family. The smell of pot pies, Pledge and Mr. Clean always bring a sick, twisted feeling to my stomach. Pot pies were what we ate at our first and last dysfunctional meal with his parents. The treatment I endured by that racist family has ruined pot pies for me. When thinking of a pot pie, one might think of family togetherness. Not me. My brain wanders back to that dreadful night when I met this family that treated me like scum because I wasn’t all white. Their house wreaked of Pledge and to this day the smell makes me gag. My heart sinks to think that I dated someone whose family treated me like human garbage. The scent of Mr. Clean gives me the sudden urge to cry, to cry in sorrow that people in this world are actually like that and for the fact that I am free from those people and have bettered myself and my life. It was just for four years of my life that I was completely jaded. These images and smells are constant reminders of how things were for most of my juvenile life. Most girls are with their boyfriends at family events, high school events, or any event that any teenager would love. Not us. We did everything else minus his family. I am glad I only had to endure one pot pie with that family.
Not only did Gabe and I have to deal with disparaging treatment like this but our families and ancestors may have had to as well. Anti-miscegenation laws had been in full effect throughout the US since the 1800’s. There have been so many rules against mixed marriages. Some states prohibited “pure white blood” from having “illicit carnal intercourse” with anyone that could have any African American in them. Ohio made that restriction in 1877. In 1880, Mississippi voids mixed marriages. A marriage between a white and a black was considered “incestuous and void”. These were laws set into play by the states. No mixing of any race was allowed. If those rules had stayed in effect, I would not be here. In 1885 Florida restricted marriage and schools. Education was segregated. I am glad to see progress has been made over the years. Progress needed to be made. Our country could not have continued segregating everyone from marrying one another or being educated together. This country would not have thrived as it has keeping people from another and turning one another against each other.
In my life time I have never been made to feel different except for one time. I have always surrounded myself with people that have loved me for me. I met one person in my life that made me feel unwanted or unworthy. It was a relationship I was in for a little under 4 years. This relationship was violent and aggressive. There was no compassion or true love. His family was ignorant and racist and showed their son that treating people of mixed races like scum was ok. I was young and blind and did not realize that I was treated badly until I saw my friend Gabe go through it as well. After four years, I moved on. I grew up and became a better person.
Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage