There was a time in my life that I wanted to be "White." Blond hair, blue eyes, tall and skinny. It started in 2nd grade. Up until then, I was a happy little Mexican girl who loved learning English and loved reading Dick and Jane books. I would constantly write - "I can run. Can you run?" Sure, I didn't speak the language well, but I tried my damnedest. I would speak Spanish words pretending they were English, just like Americans add "-so" to English words to make them sound like it's Spanish.
Well - I transitioned out of bilingual/ESL earlier than most of my classmates. They put me in a mainstream class and I'd say that is when my crisis began. The bilingual students thought of me as a traitor (it was made very clear on field day) and the white kids were probably wondering what I was doing there. I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere.
It got to the point that I told my mom I was no longer speaking Spanish because I was going to be white. She said it was fine with her as long as I understood that I would no longer be able to communicate with her, my father, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, and my favorite cousin in Mexico. So - I kept speaking Spanish.
It wasn't until I got older that I understood it wasn't just the Spanish language I almost gave up, but also my culture.
The culture where family is NUMBER ONE! Where what you feel - you feel it intesely! Where food is an invitation for friendship! Where having family in the same part of Mexico makes you have an instant connection with a complete stranger! Where music is more than JUST stuff you listen to! Where it's not JUST you...but those around you, and if you want to play the selfish game everyone around has no shame in letting you know how ridiculous you are! Where parents give up just about anything if it means their kids have a better opportunity! Where everyone works hard to make sure everyone has what they need and if anything is left over we'll make a party of it! Where gifts mean more than something you give, but you're actually giving a part of your heart!
My culture is BEAUTIFUL! I wouldn't give it up if you paid me a million dollars. I was young, naive, and felt completely out of place.
For the first time ever, this year, I get to see as a bilingual teacher what it was like for me as a bilingual student. The parent support is incredible. All the moms know each other and I'm sure have each other on speed dial. If I needed help tomorrow, I could count on them to come help me because I am their child's teacher. They know what's going on with each others kids and encourage the kids to keep each other accountable and to take care of each other.
I LOVE THAT.
But, I'm noticing my students are going through the same crisis I did and I want to make a big poster that says, "BE PROUD! YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO OFFER!!"
For me, today was especially rough. I don't know if my student's caught on but I sure did and I was ready to pounce! We were on a field trip and my class was split into two different groups. My group got to see the sparkly jewels and learned about geology. It was interesting, but not as great as it could've been if we had a more engaging and respectful tour guide.
He was too smart for his own good. My kids even used the word they learned earlier that morning to say: "Ms. Marquez, do you think he's a good example of 'brag'?" My answer was an honest: "Yes."
He began his little speech and began to ask questions in a way even I wasn't sure how to answer. He kept repeating his questions and pointing to different things and making hand gestures. He was looking specifically for the words: FLAT and SMOOTH! He pointed to a piece of wood, so the kids answered: WOOD! And then to a piece of padded velvet and they answered: FLUFFY! He was clearly not meeting them on their level.
His next question was the one that got my fire burning: Who of you were born in America?
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! Really - my students are really bright and know they words FLAT and SMOOTH!
When we got back I had a student tell me he didn't want to be Mexican. I'm not entirely sure what triggered that comment since he wasn't in my group...but he continued. That white people got the better jobs. How they look better so people treat them nicely. How others believe them before they would a Mexican.
So - I told them my story. I told them that the opportunities they have is up to how hard they study and how bad they want it. How being Mexican (or hispanic) isn't a drawback, but a more flavorful life. It means they get to have the BEST of BOTH worlds!
These kids want to be teachers and police officers. I have some who want to be doctors, lawyers, presidents of a banks, and even the President of the United States. Others want to be famous musicians to help fundraise for orphans!
My students have HUGE - I mean...LARGER THAN LIFE dreams! Please. I beg you. Don't have them tripping up on your discrimination.