SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2012       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Angel Contreras

From Being Surrounded By Family and Friends
to Being Alone and Isolated in Another Country

When we moved to the United States from Guatemala, we did it with the hope of having a better future and to get to know the rest of our family. I did not know I was going to encounter a different world, where even my family would have a different personality and I would experience a kind of racism within our own family. I was very disappointed in the way my cousins were acting towards me when I arrived. My cousins did not talk to me or welcome me due to the fact that I did not speak and understand English. They made me feel unwelcome and less valuable, just for not being born in the United States like they were.

Every time that we had a family reunion, they always called me a wetback. It was funny for them, but not for me. They hurt my feelings as a human being. I decided to stop attending most of our family parties, because they made me feel unwelcome and treated me as if I was not part of their family. When I started attending school, my cousins completely ignored me, whenever we met in the halls. Then I started to make some friends who treated me differently and showed me that not everyone in this country is racist like my cousins, just because they had been born in the United States and are half white.

However, I first attended a school in north Phoenix where the majority of the students were white and unfortunately, I did not know English, which made me unable to communicate with them or to make a lot of friends. I spoke to my mom and explained to her the issues that I was going through with my cousins. Then one of my other aunts advised my mother to transfer me to another school in South Phoenix, where there were other Hispanic students that were from Mexico and other parts of Central America.

So we moved to South Phoenix, and I started to attend a school where most of the people speak Spanish as well. Life was different here in South Phoenix and I felt as if I was in Guatemala because I was now able to communicate with the other students. I began to make a lot of friends. Then I understood that life was not going to be as we expected in the United States, especially in Arizona, which is considered to be one of the states with more racism among the citizens against Hispanics.

My cousins Joseph and Josh had always said to the rest of the family that when I moved to the United States from Guatemala at the age of thirteen or fourteen years old. I seemed to feel as if they did not like me, but I was a total stranger to them and they did not mean to make me feel like if I was not part of the family. Also, they said that I was a very quiet boy and did not seem to be very friendly. So it was not their intention to treat me differently than they treated the rest of our family. But they noticed that every time they met me at school I avoided them and I seemed uncomfortable talking to them or maybe I avoided them because they were blonde and half white.

They said that when my aunt Maria told my cousins that her sister Rosa and I moved to South Phoenix. They were wondering the reason my mother and I decided to move to the Southern area of Phoenix. They also noticed that after we moved I did not show up to any of their birthday parties or family reunions at their home. They always asked my grandma the reason I did not come with my mom to their house again. My grandma used to tell them that I was studying and trying to learn more English to find a job and help my mom to pay the bills. They always wondered the reason why I thought that they did not like me. Maybe they thought it was because I am Hispanic and not blonde and white like them. But they said that I needed to understand that they were living in a different culture and they had different norms and beliefs that made them act differently and some times not very friendly.

It does not matter what Joseph and Josh said, because when I was living in Guatemala, my cousins there were completely different than my cousins living in the United States. My cousins in Guatemala and I were like brothers and sisters. We cared about each other and made each other feel special. All our homes were close to each other, and all my family sat at the table for dinner and listened to my aunts’ and uncles’ stories and conversations of the day.

Then my life style completely changed in Phoenix, my cousins did not want to speak Spanish and they did not care about me, as did my cousins in Guatemala. My cousins and I had a language barrier, because I did not speak English, which Joseph and Josh believed was their first language. Joseph and Josh lived in a huge house in North Phoenix, with a huge swimming pool and they had a computer and each one of them had a cell phone. Cell phones at that time were very expensive and only some people were able to afford them.

Even the first time I walked into my school to register, I was very impressed to see a school so big and completely different from my school in Guatemala. But the atmosphere within the school was unwelcoming and I did not see many other Hispanic or black students than just white students. Then I went to my first day of classes and I met a few Hispanic students but not many, I was able to count them within seconds.

Life was not easy for me when I moved to Phoenix from Guatemala. Phoenix was a different world for me. I went from being surrounded by family and friends in Guatemala to being alone and isolated in another country. The worst part was that I did not know the language.

My school in Guatemala was an old building of two floors and not as big as the school here in Phoenix, but everything was much simpler. I did not see any people doing drugs or smoking at break time or outside as in the U.S. Teachers in Guatemala were very strict and demanded more from us. Teachers always carried a huge ruler in their hand and if students did not listen or obey the teachers, the teachers were allowed to hit students with the ruler or stick.

In 1985 for personal family circumstances, I moved to Phoenix Arizona to discover and face a new world in which I was going to learn about race, gender, ethnicity, sex and sexual attraction, a new language; immigration laws; economic stability and different social classes as well as a huge cultural diversity in the US society and within my own family.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (Amnesty), was introduced to the Senate by Alan K Simpson on May 23, 1985 and then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986. This Act gave amnesty to undocumented residence in the United States, and was of great benefit for my mother and me. It was of great benefit for us, because we were undocumented and due to the amnesty my mother and I were able to get our green card or permanent residency card. The amnesty changed our migratory status and my cousins (Joseph and Josh) were not able to call me wetback any more.

This Immigration Reform was the greatest immigration reform ever done by the United States. It gave us ability to grow up and advance in this country. I was able to get a better job and had a new life style in this country, even though it was not going to be the same life style of my cousins.

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