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


Multiculturalism: A Mother/Daughter Perspective

I am a second generation Phoenician. I have been here to see this city grow into the metropolis that it is today. I have watched as Phoenix has been on the front page of newspapers time and again. Things like Evan Mecham’s impeachment, Sheriff Joe and the pink underwear, and the ruckus over the Martin Luther King holiday.

I have softened my view and feelings on ethnicity over the years. I was raised by my mother and my grandparents to believe that white people don’t mix with other races. My schools, from elementary to middle school, were predominately white. All my friends growing up were white. All my boyfriends were white. That was the way it was, and that is the way I lived the beginning of my life.

I was married and blessed with two wonderful children. My husband and I agreed not to raise our children to see the color of someone’s skin, but to get to know people for who they are. We taught the kids that the color of their skin was of no consequence. I never knew if our teachings got through to them or not until my daughter was in 6th grade.

I had talked to one of her friends’ mothers and had agreed to watch her child for an hour or so after school, so that her mom, who was white, could come pick her up after work. I agreed since I was already off work.

The house on Paradise Drive has two tan leather rocker recliners in the living room as you come in the front door. I sat in one of the rockers, it was cool to the touch, a nice change from outside. The air conditioning was on in the house, which kept the chairs cooler. The chairs sit next to each other with a walkway in between them. A radio in the back bedroom was on softly. The TV was on in the living room where I had been watching it.

D: I brought my friend Kalayla home with me from school. We had arranged it with our mothers so we could study and play together every day after school. But I noticed a strange look on my mom’s face when we came in the door. After Kalayla’s mom picked her up, I asked my mom if something was wrong because of the look on her face earlier when Kalayla came in the house.

M: I was surprised to see Kalayla was black. I knew then that my daughter didn’t see color, but I still did. I was surprised at my own reaction at having a black girl studying and playing at the house. I thought I had grown up enough not to see color, but my first thought was “I can’t have a black girl here, it’s wrong.” I told my daughter “I was surprised that your friend was black”.

D: I told her of course she is black and her brothers are too. What’s wrong with that? Mom explained to me how she was raised to not socialize with colored people. I told her that seemed dumb. About a month later, I told my Mom that Kalayla had to leave the school. Their family has a tradition that the eldest son is not to cut his hair, so her brother is out of dress code. Her mom talked to the principal but it didn’t help. They are going to have to go to a different school starting next week.

In Phoenix it is still hot and humid when the kids get out of school. I picked up my daughter from school in my two-tone Buick Rendezvous. The air conditioning was on high to cool us down, me from the wait and my daughter from PE. The drive home is short, about 2 miles. She dumped her orange and white butterfly backpack in a chair next to the kitchen table.

D: Mom can you talk with Savannah’s mom so she can come over after school?

So the next year my daughter brought home her very best friend, Savannah. She was Mexican. They were inseparable until Savannah moved back to Mexico, but they still text each other even today.

D: Now I have a friend named Shobangi; she is Indian. We are in student council together and advanced math. Her parents are very protective, but she has come to a sleep over before. So can I have a sleep over for my birthday?

D: I have another friend. Her name is Elisse. Her family is Vietnamese, and they are Buddhists. She has been telling me all about karma and reincarnation. They even have a shrine to Buddha in their house. They go to a Buddhist temple. I want to go to the temple and see everything and learn more.

M: I reminded her that she is learning Japanese because she just had to know it, and when she gets done with that, she could study Buddhism more in depth if she wanted to.

D: I reminded Mom that after college I was not going to live in the United States. Mom told me it was a big world out there with lots to see and experience, but not to grow up too fast, just enjoy my time with my friends.

I have learned through the love of my daughter and her love of friendship, be it with people of white, black, Mexican or Indian descent, that they are wonderful kids. Their parents love their children just as I love my own. I don’t judge on the color of their skin just as my daughter doesn’t. They are people, like me, trying to do the best for their family. Our cultural differences enhance the diversity of life and should be appreciated and celebrated.

So my daughter is now in eighth grade and has learned about 9/11/01. She understands what it did to this place we call home, forcing us to see a new enemy rear its ugly head. She knows who Nelson Mandela is and ending apartheid in South Africa. She knows who Martin Luther King is and the civil rights movement. She understands the significance of having our nation’s first African-American President. These people and moments in time have been taught to her in school.

But these things have also happened in her lifetime. Latinos are the nation’s largest minority group and 50% of births are now Black, Hispanic, Asian and mixed-raced births. I doubt my daughter would care even if she knew about them. For her, it just means more people to make friends with.

Young people have very different attitudes towards race than when I was their age, and it was me that had to change in order to keep up.

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