SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Victoria Zamarripa

Othering in the Family

It was the end of the school year and summer was just starting. I had just finished my sophomore year at Arizona State. I could not wait to go home to California and celebrate the summer season with my family. My dad’s family loves to get together and eat and drink and celebrate being together. As I sat down at the table with my plate of food, I could not help but notice the atmosphere. There was salty carne asada, homemade rice and beans, and of course the Alfredo pasta for the kids. The foods all blended together as my family did. We used these foods to come together and enjoy each others' company. The food was an indulgence of culture for my family; we embraced it and welcomed it with open arms. This is the time we come together and talk about what’s new in our lives, how school is going for the kids, how work is going for the adults and so on. My tias, as we called our aunts on the Mexican side of the family, are always the life of the party. Music was a way for my family to feel joy; it is a sense of pride to sing and dance along loudly. As a child I used to be so embarrassed by this, but as I grew older I realized that it brought us closer together. We laugh and smile when we dance. It is a happy place for my family to be. We are able to come out of our shells and just be family when we listen to music and dance.

My tias are the ones to pry about how college is going and continue to ask me to tell my younger cousins how fun and important college is in order to encourage them to go. My younger cousin Celena had begun classes at the local community. It was my aunt’s idea to keep her close to home because she was “too young to be leaving home” and she was worried she would become distant to her family emotionally as well as physically. While sitting at the table, I talked to Celena about coming to ASU once she completed her two years at the community college. My aunt was not too fond of this idea, but she let me share my experiences.

            Once my cousin had left the “big kid table” it was just my two aunts and myself. They quickly began to interrogate me. My Tia had told me that Celena had been seeing a boy around her age, not too much older. Her problem with this boy was that he is of African American descent. She asked me how she could to tell Celena to stop seeing him.

My niece gave me a look of concern— but not for Celena. I explained that I did not particularly think that this boy was good for her. After all, he was black and their divorce rates seemed to be much higher than those of any other race. To me, it just seemed like she was falling for this boy to spite me. Celena’s father and I were going through a divorce and she knew how I felt about her dating anybody at all, but this seemed intentional. I couldn’t have her dropping out of school or losing sight of her dream for this boy. What if she got pregnant before she got married, or worked a minimum wage job the rest of her life? I could not have her making mistakes I made when I was young. Granted, I did go back to school and now work for the County, but it was all too much for me to have to go back to school when I could have just finished it right away. My biggest wish for her is to be happy with her decisions. I wish her a life of ease and simplicity, because ironically those were things I had to work for.

I was baffled and shocked beyond belief. I just sat there and let her ramble frantically as if Celena had made a drastic decision to drop out of school to become a drug dealer! I did not understand what the big deal was. She had argued that “they” had the highest rates of divorce, unemployment, and school dropout. I asked her where she got these statistics and was furious when she responded that she “just knew”. She had differentiated and disassociated herself from another race of people only because of their pigment. My other tia quickly tried to change the subject. She asked me if I had been dating anyone in Arizona. My Tia Irma, Celena’s mom, listened while I explained that I was seeing someone who was also of African American descent.  I couldn’t help but notice her widening eyes.

Tori had jumped in asking how I knew he was a bad seed. She shared that she herself had been seeing a boy of African American descent. I hadn’t ever seen her act this defensive but I knew her heart was in the right place.  I had to wonder if my niece, who had a good head on her shoulders, had a point.

“How does your dad feel about this honey?” Tia Irma asked. I turned and caught my dad’s eyes, he came over to the table confident in his answer to the question he had overheard. “Whatever or whoever my daughter feels happy with is up to her,” he said. “As long as that person treats her like a princess, I cannot help but be happy for her”. He winked at me, smirked at my aunts and continued to scope out the dessert table.

I began to panic. I had been raised by my Mexican father and my Asian and Caucasian mother who had taught me that color is just color, that people are all people and that as long as everyone treated me with respect, to treat them the same. After all, my aunt had always seemed so quick to compliment my and my brother’s Asian features. Did she feel that we were different or somehow inferior, despite our blood relation? Suddenly I felt as if my family had become a group of people to whom I did not connect, especially since my brother and I are the only grandchildren who are multiracial. I suddenly felt like an “other” placed in a group of people unlike myself. I internalized everything my aunt had said and became self-conscious about my ethnicity. It was as if I had entered another world where I knew nothing of the culture, and instantly felt singled out from those with whom I had been so close my entire life.

After that summer discussion, I began to look at the world differently than my cousins, my parents, and my aunts and uncles. I am different than they are. Before, I could see myself in each of their experiences, and them in my experiences. Now, it was as if I had become an outsider, an other. I had read about times throughout history of discrimination and othering between races. Civil rights and interracial marriage, such as in the1967 Loving v. Virginia case that legalized interracial marriage throughout the U.S., had been major issues since the sixties but never in my life had I felt those events so closely. My Tia Irma had presented this African American boy as if he were too different, too foreign of a person for her daughter to date. I couldn’t help but think about my own parents’ marriage; I had noticed my whole life how accepting and encouraging their parents had been. Was there a time when this was not the case? I never saw race as a downfall, but as a difference that should be embraced. I thought about how my Tia should have felt relieved that my cousin found someone she admired regardless of his race or ethnicity.

I began to feel like an alien of my own Mexican culture, although I knew this was not my Tia’s intention. If one of my family members could speak against their daughter being with someone of another race, what did they think about me or my brother being offspring of an interracial marriage? I had always had a strong character, someone confident in their abilities with a strong sense of self; I knew who I was and was proud of it. I rarely cared what people thought of me, however, after this incident, I began to rethink a lot of things, began to question my identity, and my role in my extended family. I wanted to delve deeper into the minds of my family to see their thoughts, and for me, this was not the usual.

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