Through our educational years, my fellow students and I were incessantly forced to read books on racism and inequality. The towers of books grudgingly read by the most dedicated students, but mostly left untouched by the general population, always stirred groans of, "Why should we even care, "This was ages ago! Move on!" and my favorite, " Why don't we read about discrimination on whites!" In truth, most of these books had limited domains to choose from: either Hispanic discrimination, African inequality, or if the authors were really unconventional,Indian intolerance. But I felt the same way as everyone else; this stuff doesn't actually exist.
I grew up differently from all the other children around me. Being a Mexican American, I spent my childhood at religious events, family gatherings that are as far from cookouts as classical music is from reggae, and boasting a closet filled with traditional Mexican dresses that resemble the marvelous triple-decker pastries from, "Cake Boss." But even all these differences never made me truly stand out, because no one knew who I really was.
My mother, having earned a degree in another country, had neither "legitimate" work experience nor education in America. Always believing in the importance of employment, she began working as a housecleaner. From a young age, I would accompany her and never saw this job as demeaning; I simply thought this was life. Then, one afternoon, while I was making a bed and my mother dusted, a warm, Chanel smelling woman walked in to say hello. She strolled around, noticeably uncomfortable. I eventually made small talk, asked about her pure breed German Shepherds and lost brain cells as I heard about the dog's wedding day. Eventually, the woman shortened the gap between us and asked, almost ashamed, " What are your plans after high school honey?" Though seemingly innocent, I was taken aback by this question. This was a random woman asking me if I had any future plans other than folding her laundry. I simply answered, " College has always been my plan, ma'am," determined to escape the situation. With a sympathetic look, she said, "Good for you. I'm glad you know being Mexican doesn't mean you don't have potential."
I have never been ashamed of my background, always gladly checking off the Hispanic option on my annual school questionnaire. But if my friends knew my mother cleaned houses, or that my father works as a groundskeeper on the weekends, would I be viewed differently? Would I be prone to the comments and jokes that my dusty books say exist? That afternoon, I realized society still categorized people by race. But instead of letting it restrict me, I decided it was up to me to define myself. I let that feeling of degradation empower me to become someone great, someone not defined by race.
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