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

(Rose) Maria Sarno

White Girl

I’ll always remember my first day of fourth grade, because that was the day I went home crying. I didn’t make even one new friend and to me it was the worst day of my life. I had just moved to El Mirage in the fourth grade and started going to Surprise Elementary. On that first day no one asked my name. They did, however, come up with their own name for me: “white girl”.

Walking up to surprise Elementary for the first time felt like I was walking into a prison. From a distance the school looms large with its plain beige brick walls with old rusted gates that someone tried to cover up with orange paint. When I finally arrived at my classroom and walked in, no one looked at me. I walked around until I found the desk with my nametag on it, and sat down. The desks were grouped into fours where we were all facing each other, and everyone was talking; but I couldn’t understand anything that the other kids were saying, and no one really cared to inform me about what was going on. Until class started I just stared down at the old wooden desk with graffiti carvings on it.

My first day of fourth grade was amazing! I was able to see all of my friends that I hadn’t seen over the summer and all of my teachers seemed pretty nice. I was worried they were going to be strict and yell at me for talking to my friends in Spanish all the time, thankfully they didn’t!

In my previous school I went by my middle name “Rose” but when the teachers took roll on my first day at Surprise and called out my first name “Maria,” I didn’t correct them. With a name like “Maria” I thought I would fit in better with my now mainly Hispanic classmates.

I was also completely uncomfortable because at my previous school I had been allowed to wear anything that I wanted, and at this new school everyone had to wear the same outfit; white shirts and navy bottoms. There was one difference between me and the other girls though; I noticed that all the other girls were wearing cute navy pants with their white collard V-neck shirts. That first day of school and for many days after, I had to wear the uniform my mother had bought me which was a button-up white shirt with a collar, and my navy blue jumper…. So not only was I the white girl, but I had no style.

The first day of school is always fun because you get to see all of the new kids. I remember there was this girl sitting in the group in front of me, and she stood out from everyone else. I don’t really remember much of what we talked about in that first class, but then came lunch time and everyone’s favorite time: recess! All of my friends and I were standing over by the swings when I saw that girl I had seen in my class earlier. I asked my friends what the girl’s name was, but no one knew. So I yelled out the only thing I could think of to get her attention: “white girl!” But she just looked at me and kept walking to the other side of the playground.

In the school I went to in the year before, nothing like that had ever happened to me. Nothing about this new school seemed to be inviting. However, looking back I never really gave the school a chance before I started noticing everything I didn’t like. All I knew was that none of my friends were there and it looked and sounded nothing like the school I went to before.

Once we were back in class and the teacher started talking again I tried to get that girl’s attention again, but she was too far to hear me so I told my friend to tell the white girl “what’s up?” My friend leaned over and said to her; “hey white girl, Jerry says what’s up”. She just looked at him and then at me with the meanest look on her face, and didn’t say a word she just turned her gaze back at the teacher and ignored us. I was shocked with how rude she was, all we were doing was trying to talk to her and she ignored us every time. Obviously we were not going to be friends.

Sitting there I had such a weird feeling, because it wasn’t as if everyone was being mean to me; it was just that everything was now completely different. It honestly changed the person who I was. I remember loving school before I moved; I remember arriving in the morning and talking to my friends outside the class and just feeling happy. The new school just made me feel like a no-name stranger who didn’t fit in with anyone.

This incident was so important and stayed vivid in my mind because it was the turning point at which I realized that ethnic differences exist. Considering the geographic location where I lived in the U.S Southwest, it was really inevitable. In the year 2000 despite many protests, Arizona voters endorsed a bill prohibiting bilingual education. The main reason for that bill was the increasing amount of immigration from Mexico, which inspired “English Only” movements by Americans who felt English would be threatened.

Before moving to El Mirage I had lived in Phoenix. According to the 1999 census Phoenix had 449,972 reported Hispanics/Latinos and 938,853 reported Whites. However, the 2000 census for El mirage reported 5,084 Hispanics/Latinos and 5,042 Whites. The town had been historically the residence of migrant farm workers and Mexicans and their American descendants clearly predominated.
During the time of my incident all of these things were affecting me in a non-direct way. I of course didn’t realize it, because the only thing that I understood as a child was the school and the students who attended it.

When I finally made it home that day I ran to my mom and begged her to let me go back to my old school with my old friends. I was so angry when she dismissed everything that I had told her, and just told me that it would get better and I would make new friends in time. I couldn’t believe her because in my mind I was just the “white girl” that didn’t belong.

The world around me was changing then… and still is. The only difference is I realize it now.

All Census information was found at:

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