SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2012 Personal Memory Ethnographies
This is The Song That Never Ends
I grew up in Gilbert Arizona with predominately white children and it had always seemed to me that we were all the same. There were only a handful of kids that had slightly darker skin and even then most people could visually skim the school and say every child was white.
One day it came to my attention for the first time that I was not like the majority of the white children in Mrs. Campbell’s first grade class. Our room smelled like crayons and was decorated with our art work, projects, and time lines showing how many books we had read so far in the year. As a class we were told that we could rearrange our desks in any way we wanted because we had done so well with our book readings. We decided to move our desks in clumps of fours to form one big desk we could all share. My discovery happened when we started learning Spanish, once a week for one hour after lunch we would watch an interactive video that would teach us Spanish words and phrases.
The first day we watched the video a girl sharing my table asked me if I was Spanish or Mexican. She too had dark hair and eyes, olive almost tan skin. She said she was Jewish. I told her that I didn’t know but I did not think that I was either so maybe I was Jewish like her. She said, “If you were Jewish you would know because you wouldn’t celebrate Christmas and you’d get to wear a star necklace like mine. Maybe you’re Mexican.”
I didn’t think this was right because my mom and dad did not look like the people in the video, nor did we have Mexican food in our house as my mom always said it was junk food. As I stared down at my shoes I watched my brightly colored sandal straps swing back and forth as I kicked my feet in my small chair. The colors blurred past my feet as wondered about what I am.
When my mother came to walk me home from the bus stop I stayed quiet, still letting my shoe straps hypnotize me as I reasoned out why my classmate had been so sure I was Mexican. I went straight to my room when I got home.
When I finally couldn’t seem to come up with an answer I decided to ask my mom, who was cooking dinner. I went into the kitchen, tapped her leg and looking up at her I asked, “Mommy, what am I?” My mother gazed at me with a perplexed face. What is she? What does that even mean? She is a six year old girl in first grade. I explained a little further that there was a Jewish girl in my class who had asked me if I was Mexican because of the videos we watched in class. With a smile she explained, “Oh well I’m from the Philippines and I’m also half Japanese. Your father is Scottish and French. That makes you half Asian and half European.” With that I was satisfied with her answer and went back to my room to do some homework. My mother went back to cooking dinner, her mind started to wander lost in her thoughts as she stirred a pot of spaghetti noodles.
How is it that Laurel can be thinking about race and religion at such a young age? She is going to start having this conversation with everyone she meets just like I did when I first moved to Arizona. She isn’t Asian looking enough to pass for Asian, and her skin tans too easily. With all of those white children in her school of course they are going to think that she is Mexican. If she learns to speak Spanish she is only going to get pigeonholed into that category. I know she enjoys learning, but it will be much better for if she doesn’t learn to be like those Mexican people. Historically there have been so many struggles about race. She doesn’t need any more pressure, maybe she should go into to those advanced classes. I’ll call the school tomorrow.
The next day in school I was excited to share my news that I had figured out what I was. I told my classmate, “My mom told me I’m Asian and European. I’m not Mexican.” “But your face isn’t all flat and you have big eyes. That is what Asians look like; I still think you might be Mexican”, She replied. I didn’t really bother to argue with her, I believed what my mom had told me and I didn’t need any validation from her.
In retrospect, my classmate had probably asked me if I was Mexican because I looked different and she really had no concept of race herself. In a broader social context the Immigration Act in 1990 could have very well influenced my classmate to ask about my race. With so many new immigrants especially in Arizona I’m sure her family had probably mentioned race. In Arizona the Asian population is just so small that is generally does not come into thought that there is anything else other than Caucasian, Hispanic, or Black.
After lunch that day I was told that I was going to go to a different classroom instead of participating in Spanish. I had tested exceptionally high in my standardized test so I would be in the advanced learning placement where I would start learning about Shakespeare and advanced mathematics. My mom had talked to the school and finally gave me permission to go to the advanced classes. I was excited to learn more in my new supplement classes, but a little disappointed at the same time that I would not get to learn Spanish. My mom had told me that if I wanted I could choose a language to learn and we could learn it at home. I chose French because my mom said it sounded prettier than Spanish.
Since first grade I have been asked multiple times on a weekly basis by strangers, classmates, coworkers, etc. if I was Mexican. On extremely rare occasions people actually had the courtesy to ask what my ethnicity was instead of assuming I am Hispanic.
1983- Vanessa Williams becomes the first African-American to be crowned Miss America, in Atlantic City, NJ
1984- Crack, a smokeable form of cocaine, is first introduced into the Los Angeles area and soon spreads across the United States in what becomes known as the Crack Epidemic.
1985- U.S. President Ronald Reagan is privately sworn in for a second term in office (publicly sworn in, January 21).
1987- Amnesty for Aliens.
1988- Governor Evan Mecham of Arizona is convicted in his impeachment trial and removed from office.
1989- President George Bush signs into law an entitlement program to pay each surviving Japanese American internee $20,000.
1990- Immigration Act- increased the limits on legal immigration to the United States, revised all grounds for exclusion and deportation, authorized temporary protected status to aliens of designated countries, revised and established new nonimmigrant admission categories, revised and extended the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, and revised naturalization authority and requirements.
1991- An amateur video captures the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles, California police officers and LA uprise
1992- George H. W. Bush is televised falling violently ill at a state dinner in Japan, vomiting into the lap of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and fainting
1993- Laurel discovers race.
1993- First formal signing of the Proclamation of Asian Pacific American Heritage Week by the White House.
1995- U.S. President Bill Clinton invokes emergency powers to extend a $20 billion loan to help Mexico avert financial collapse.
1996- Mother Teresa receives honorary U.S. citizenship.
1997- U.S. President Bill Clinton issues a formal apology to the surviving victims of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male and their families.
1998- Google, Inc. is founded in Menlo Park, California, by Stanford University Ph.D. candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
1999- Buford O. Furrow, Jr. wounds 5 and kills 1 during the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting.
2000- Census finally gets a clue and separates Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islanders and Asians
2001- September 11th
2002- The No Child Left Behind Act is signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush.
2003- The US Census Bureau announces that with 37 million, Hispanics constitute the largest minority in the USA (compared with 36 million African Americans).
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