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

Sheena Samaniego

You are Not a Mexican

My heart starts to pump fast and my hands begin to sweat, as I begin feeling anxious, trying to understand why I have to be here every year. I grab my mother’s hand and say, “please, don’t leave me here I don’t want to be here I will be a good girl I don’t want to stay.”

My mother looks me in the eye and says, “One day you will understand why I’m doing this. It is for your own good because when you get older you will not be like me and your father, trying to work hard to provide a roof over your head and food on the table.”

Small tears begin to slowly run down my face and looking at her eyes glittering shows me that everything is going to be all right. As I begin to enter the classroom I see that it is full of long tables and there is an ABC poster on the wall. Our names are taped on the small orange, yellow, and green chairs to guide us to our seat.

My father was working as an agriculture worker in the year 1986 when the congress approved the Immigration Reform and Control Act, providing legalization for certain undocumented workers, which included agricultural workers. My father was one of the lucky ones to receive a visa that allowed him to continue working without being transported back to Mexico.

In the year 1990 I started fourth grade in a new classroom for the very first time. As I enter the classroom I see different types of ethnicities. I feel like an outcast, not belonging to any group in my classroom even though I did belong to one group in particular. But why do my classmates not allow me to be called by my own ethnicity, Mexican? Looking at the past I try to understand the reason why my parents came to a country where they have no family in Arizona or no one speaks Spanish. This makes it clear to me that for them it was a fresh start and a way to start a family. But I keep having nightmares of a group of kids in my classroom mocking me, teasing me, and bullying me because of my skin color. They call me “gringa” which means, “white girl,” because I look like one and dress like one. I’m not a Mexican like them, I don’t know to how to speak Spanish like them, I am a “wanna be” that’s what they call it. They think that I’m trying to be someone I’m not.

The Immigration Act of 1990 set an annual ceiling of 700,000 immigrants per year to enter the U.S. for the next three years. Latinos were increasing and in 2003 were pronounced the nations largest minority group at 37.1 million, surpassing African Americans. This represented a major watershed in the US demography as well as its political culture. This shows that people had an opportunity to come to America and start a new life to support their families, especially if America allowed them to cross its border with legal permission.

My first language was Spanish and even though I spoke Spanish my own culture rejected me. I would wander in the playground all alone. The playground made an impact during this memory. I would always get excited to play outside because it was an opportunity to be free and not feel unwanted or have insecurity about how other kids in the classroom would think of me. I perceived that only Hispanics were dark skinned and I tried to get dark by getting a tan so the kids in my classroom would accept me in their group and I wouldn’t feel lonely. The swings were very special to me. Swinging back and forth and feeling the breeze in my face gave me peace within myself. I would spend most of my recess swinging because I felt secure and it was okay to be alone.

One Saturday evening I decided to confront my mom and ask her why I wasn’t a Mexican even though I had been told I was born in Mexico and I spoke Spanish. I needed to know why I was born this way, why was it so difficult for me to make friends of my own culture, why was I ashamed of being light skinned and why was I not happy with myself? I asked my mom, “Mom, am I adopted”?

She responded, “No, why do you ask if you were adopted, are you okay?”

I told her "I don't look like you or my brothers, and I don't have your skin color and I don't speak proper Spanish. I'm really light skinned and the kids in school make fun of me and say that I'm not Mexican because I'm not dark and I don't speak like a Mexican.

My mom hugged me and said, "Just because you don't have dark skin doesn't make you any less of your culture especially if it's in your blood, look at your dad he’s light skinned and he’s a Mexican. As long as you are happy knowing where you come from that should keep you strong.”

The classroom is now a place where I can have a good or bad experience. I never know what to expect once I enter the room. Even though I am at a higher education level, some classes have similar settings as my elementary classrooms and it brings me memories of that incident. The playground reminds me of the good times I had. These old playgrounds are replaced with new playgrounds, so it feels like those memories are fading away and there is no attachment. Most important were the swings. The years have passed but there are still swings in parks, recreations areas, and schools. When I see a swing, I usually go running up to it and start swinging back and forth and smile while the breeze touches my face. That memory will stay with me for a very long time.

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