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

Angelica Favela

My First Racial Encounter

During 1986, my parents migrated from Mexico into the United States of America and qualified for the amnesty. Because of this, my mother and father decided to establish our family in the small farming town of Tolleson, Arizona. My father, born in 1940 at the end of World War II, had witnessed the development of American society. He loved the idea of having a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, two-car garage, and a prosperous future. What he didn’t understand was why would such a developed and economically advanced nation dwell on the issue of race. Once he became a citizen or as I like to say, a new member of the 2.7 million who migrated in 1986, this nation had a long history of racial and social issues that still needed to be addressed.

My parents raised our family to believe we should all respect our self and others. What my parents failed to tell us was that not everyone else in the world did as we did. As a farming town, there were many Mexicans and Central Americans who worked in Tolleson, Arizona. I was not aware there was more than one race. It wasn't until I met an African American for the very first time that I realized there were other races. How my friend Jeremy ended up in Tolleson, a Hispanic-based town, was because of the 1996 social security cuts intended to end social services to Hispanics, which instead limited some services for other minorities.

Tolleson, Arizona Fall of 1996, government projects: During this time, Tolleson Elementary School was attended mostly by Hispanic-Americans and Mexicans. Everyone in the community spoke Spanish and almost all students were part of the ESL course. The number of class rooms that taught ESL versus regular classes was 4 to 1. All of my friends, family members, and classmates of our ethnic heritage, went through the ESL program and stayed in or tested out of the course. There were no cultural studies, we were taught basic information and disregarded for the most part of the class. It was from the experience of living in Tolleson that I learned that the world is made up of more than just one culture or race.

During the 90’s, there were more Hispanics than White Americans in our school. My mother has very light skin color and green eyes. My father has a darker skin tone and brown eyes. To me, there was no difference between me and my next door neighbor. Then one day in third grade, I saw a little black boy in my class. I didn’t know what to think of him since I had been taught by my parents that we were all the same and I took that to mean physically as well. But to me, it didn’t make any sense. I had never seen anyone as dark as he. I was intrigued and I wanted to go talk to him but he looked so scared. He also spoke English and I did not. When I went home that day, I asked my mom why people were dark. My mom said to me that some people are dark and others are light, but that we are all the same.

The next day, during recess I attempted to introduce myself to the new boy. My first conversation with Jeremy, who later in life would become my best friend, went something like this;

Me – “Hi”

Jeremy - “Oh, hi! You’re the girl in that special class. My name is Jeremy, what’s your name?”

Me – “My name is Angelica. You pronounce the g as an h.”

I was stunned. As a child, I had been placed in ESL classes until I was able to test out of it. But how did Jeremy know and why did he call ESL a “special class”? I was very confused as to why he identified me as being in a special class.

With no prior knowledge of how Jeremy ended up where he did, I learned later on in life what our encounter really meant. Tolleson grew and expanded to become a small city whose majority occupants are still Hispanic or Latino, but with an incorporation of other races such as African Americans. This city has turned out to be a brewing pot of continual economic downfall, below average living standards, and an oppressed poor community. As far as Jeremy being placed in an ESL class, it was more than obvious that all students needed to be placed in this program because of the demographics of the area. Once Jeremy brought it to his mother’s attention, it was cleared up right away and he was placed in the regular classes.

Jeremy’s mother always said they had had to overcome so much hardship caused by the same nation that raised them. Jeremy’s mother never really understood why, and at that age, neither did I. As time progressed, Jeremy and I realized we were both on similar boats. During the early 2000’s, the American society attempted to control the growth and span of minority groups. By 2003, it was too late; the Hispanic group surpassed the African American community and it continued to grow. Our group of individuals now experienced the same treatment African Americans had in earlier decades.

After Jeremy and I became friends, he explained his experience to me.

“When I walked in, I heard my teacher speaking a different language than English. I stood by the corner table and waited for her to politely introduce me but she didn’t. I waited to go up to her and tell her that there might be a mistake but I ended up sitting at the corner table by myself, drawing. There were so many other kids but I was not able to speak their language so I stood quietly and smiled at people nervously until the end of class. At the end of the day, I went home and told my mom what I had experienced. My mom was extremely mad and said I had practically wasted a whole day in the wrong class and she would speak to the principal the next day.

That following day, my mom and I went straight to the principal. My mother explained to the principal there was a mistake, I was black and not Mexican, therefore I did not need to be in those “special classes”. Minutes later, there was a nice teacher who came with her whole class to greet me and take me back to their class. We walked in a straight line all the way back to the other side of the school. There, everyone came one by one to greet me and the teacher said I was the student of the day since that was my first day. Afterwards, we read books and wrote poems and were excused to recess break.

Since I didn’t make immediate friends, I went off to play by myself under a tree. Then a girl that was in the “special class” approached me. She began to speak, but I didn’t understand her so I said, Oh, you’re the girl in that special class. My name is Jeremy, what’s your name?” At first she seemed shocked, and then she said her name was Angelica,
“You pronounce the g as h”. After playing for the 30 minute recess break, we went our separate ways. During my elementary years, Angelica and I became very good friends.”

The following year after I had already made friends with Jeremy, my family moved to a larger city, Phoenix. It was there I learned that we all come in different shapes, forms, and sizes with different skin colors too. It made me realize that we are all the same, maybe we have different backgrounds but we are all the same. My first crucial life lesson came early and with different meanings. First and foremost, there are physical differences between every single person in this world, and we have all had our share of financial, social, and political differences. The second, minorities come in different shapes and forms. I realize now that as a Mexican-American woman, I am a minority. My early experience was a an eye opener to the real world that lies ahead.

This incident stuck with me because I had been sheltered to believe something, and indeed did believe it. I finally realized that the reason why I had never seen an African American was because they had affirmative action, protesters, leaders, and riots. Our community was simply too small for me to believe there was a whole other world waiting for me just around the corner. Jeremy was my first realization that we were equal as humans, but unequal in our social lives and economic stand points because of the direct events in my timeline.

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