Jennifer sat in her first period AP English class thinking about her freshman year of high school. How had she not noticed it then? Perhaps she wasn’t thinking about it or perhaps it didn’t bother her the way it did now. Either way now she was aware of it and it was in her face. When she looked around she noticed that she was one of 5 Mexican students in a class of 35; the rest of the students were White. This wasn’t anything new; it had been like this since she entered high school. She recounted her freshman year when she didn’t know anyone.
She entered her first period class excited and a little anxious. She saw two friends from junior high and she sat with them. She noticed that there were few Mexicans in the class and she felt a little alienated among the White students. However this didn’t stop her from participating in the class and doing her best. It was like this in all of her academic classes, only in non-academic classes did she encounter more Mexican students. At this time she was identifying more strongly with her Mexican culture and she never would’ve thought that this would change. However her identity would change and it would cause in her something she never before expected.
She walked into her classes and everywhere she would see white faces. She looked for the brown faces and made her way towards them to take a seat. It was like this in every class in the beginning. This alienation changed something within her. She was tired of standing out and being the smart, Mexican girl. It was her advanced algebra class that really made a change in her. She was actually the only Mexican girl in this class and she felt extremely alienated and different. Thus, little by little she started to change herself; to make herself more like the White people. She started out by changing how she dressed and she completely changed her style. Her clothes started to get more expensive. Was it to keep up with appearances or was it because she really liked the clothes? At this point it was mostly for appearances since she found that she was mimicking the style of her peers. This made her feel less out of place. She didn’t just change this about herself, gradually she started leaving her Mexican culture at home and when she was amongst White people she tried to incorporate herself into the White culture as much as she could. However, this didn’t make her happy either but she was trying to erase who she really was. Her freshman and sophomore year went like this but another radical change was going to happen when she entered her junior year of high school.
Her first period teacher Mr. Sandrich was a person who loved to bring up things that were uncomfortable to for people to discuss. He liked to discuss the racy subjects; his favorite being race. In the high school, the majority of the student body was of minority races with only forty percent being White, yet there was still a major racial gap. Contrary to the thought that the White students would feel overwhelmed by the minority students, it was the White students who overwhelmed the minorities. They were the main group represented in the bulletin, newspaper, yearbook, and theater. Thus although they were smaller, they were the dominant group at the high school. In addition to this, the White students were always in the upper level and advanced classes, while the minority students were in the lower level classes. This was an issue that her teacher, Sandrich loved to talk about and it was something that made her feel very angry.
All of a sudden she was very aware of the fact that her culture was lagging behind and she wondered why? She didn’t understand why so little students made the effort to immerse themselves into the dominant culture. Then she realized that it wasn’t her culture’s fault. It was a flaw in the educational system that kept people separated. It was the misrepresentation of the student body. There were only very few who were able to make the leap from their culture onto another amidst an incredible amount of de facto segregation. The institution was partly to blame for this because they would track students immediately from the day they entered primary school and depending on that they decided for them where they should be. It was only those students who cared enough or whose parents were pushy that were able to break free of tracking.
Jennifer never realized that she too had been tracked until then. She realized that that was the point of all those standardized tests and she saw how unfair things were. People with a lot of money could get private tutors for their children while other students of lower incomes couldn’t and had to make do with what they had. That was when she realized how different she really was. She had been tracked into the upper level classes until her sophomore year and then she was given the choice of choosing her path. For her, the advanced classes were the norm and she saw no other option but to stay in those.
After that day in her first period AP English class, Jennifer decided to embrace her Mexican culture and to show others that si se puede! She got so worked up about it that she even wrote an article for the school newspaper where she made a call to action to the Mexicans. She asked them to do something for themselves and for their culture and stop fostering racism by breaking the pre-imposed boundaries. The reactions that this got were interesting. White students read it and thought that it was interesting issue but they couldn’t really relate nor do anything about it. On the other hand some Mexican students were supportive and others got offended. They felt that she wasn’t anyone to be telling them what to do or perhaps it was the fact that it had never been brought to light and they didn’t like to hear it. They didn’t like to be blamed for other people’s racism against them. However, when they fulfilled the stereotype of the Mexican without any question, how could they not be to blame? This was something that she felt very strongly about. She knew she was not what the idea of a stereotypical Mexican girl was.
She stopped trying to be like her White peers and decided to show her culture. She was proud to be a Mexican and to be different and to disprove stereotypes about Mexicans that others had. She wasn’t rich and she didn’t have much but she had an extreme motivation to work hard and make it to the top. She knew that she wanted to make something of herself and show others that just because she was Mexican didn’t mean that she couldn’t make it to the top. Once again she found her appearance changing but this time it wasn’t to fit in with anybody. It was because she had now come to terms with who she was and she embraced her personality and what she liked. She wasn’t a black and white figure. She was a person with changing thoughts and opinions and she was developing very strong opinions and knowing exactly who she was.
So as her junior year progressed she spent countless hours visiting her counselor and getting informed about colleges and how to pick the right one. There were several instances when people asked her how she was doing and she would tell them all of the things she was involved in and how she was applying to colleges and which ones and people were very surprised. She knew that this was because she was Mexican and a female and it made her angry but it motivated her even more to show people that her culture didn’t rule her. Although she did love her Mexican culture and wanted to show it off, there were some things that she didn’t agree about. For one, Mexican culture encourages women to get a husband and have children as soon as possible. This was something that she did not agree with. Luckily for her, she had a mother and father that thought the same way. Her parents had come to this country to escape poverty and provide a better life for her and her sisters. They both worked blue-collar jobs and they didn’t want their daughters to have the same fate. They knew how important education was and they encouraged Jennifer to try hard and motivated her to make them proud.
She started applying to colleges and applying for scholarships because she knew that there was no other way for her to pay for higher education. She sat at the computer thinking about what to write for her personal statement. She knew that it made her parents very happy to see her doing something that would actually get her somewhere and that made her happy too. She wrote about her parents and how they were her inspiration. They had come from Mexico when they were only teenagers and they put themselves to work from day one. At Jennifer’s age, her mom was already pregnant and she was only nineteen when she had her. She admired her parents so much because of their incredible motivation and will power to do as much as they could to provide her and her sisters with a better life.
As her senior year came around so did college acceptances. This was a very exciting time but also a hard time. She got accepted into some of the top schools like USC and UC Berkeley. However, she was afflicted because she wasn’t ready to be apart from her family and because she didn’t know whether to leave her boyfriend of two years or not. In the end she decided to stay in her hometown and attend UCSB. When graduation rolled around she was very glad to be out of high school. Her strong personality and feelings about race had caused tension between her and some students but all that didn’t matter anymore because she was going to embark on a new chapter of her life. As she walked down the hill to the graduation ceremony she knew that her parents were very proud but she also felt pride in herself. While at first everything she did may have been to make her parents proud, now it made her proud. She knew that she wanted to make something of herself and get respect and she knew that in order to do this she was going to have to work hard but she was up for the challenge.
As college rolled around, she decided to live in the dorms because she wanted more independence than her parents were giving her and she felt that it was also part of the college experience. Living in the dorms was very different than living at home and she felt incredibly homesick. She would visit her parents as often as she could and always loved to be home. She got so homesick that she decided to move back home. She didn’t really care what people thought because she knew that she was happy where she was.
Now when she looks back at these experiences in her life she is very grateful that they occurred. She is Mexican and she loves her culture and she loves to express that she is Mexican, however when she doesn’t agree with something that her culture tries to impose on her, she takes the freedom to reject it and embrace what she believes. Sometimes this happens to coincide with things that she has learned from her experiences with White culture. Her experience in both Mexican and White culture left her agreeing and disagreeing with certain aspects of each culture and she decided to take what she wanted and leave out what she didn’t. By doing so she created a new culture. She was and still is more attached to her Mexican culture but when there is something lacking in it she takes charge and grabs what she wants from another culture. She loves being different and loves that she broke the stereotype. She creates her own path and follows it as she sees fit.