A Reflection on Race in My Small White Community

By Julia Lima, TIWP Student

I think I really became conscious of my ethnic identity when I started elementary school. I remember feeling shamed by my peers for the Brazilian foods my mother would pack in my lunchbox for me. I remember wishing I had blonde hair and light eyes, like my peers. I remember never telling anyone my middle name because it wasn’t “Marie” or “Rose;” it was long and far too complicated for their American tongues. 

When I got to middle school, it became more than embarrassment, it became erasure. I wanted to hide my ethnic background as much as I could. I didn’t want to look different. Suddenly I was getting questions asking if my parents were legal, I was being categorized as Mexican, and I was being told to speak Spanish. The problem with any seemingly “different” kid attending a majority white middle school is that the kids will usually look to ignorance instead of education. Any kids who were even a little different, a little darker, a bit more “foreign” – those kids didn’t fit into the set standards. 

And those standards carried on into our teen years. When I was in high school, for seven hours a day, five days a week, I sat in a classroom surrounded by peers who insisted immigrants didn’t deserve rights, in a school where the Latino and black population was small enough to be placed in one category together on the pie chart, in a district where students of color cannot transfer in, in a city full of families that all look alike, in a nation that my people helped create.

Our nation is one stolen from the indigenous, built by African Americans, and kept beautiful by Latinos… yet when I go to school, I’m taught in history class that native peoples were primitive and unadvanced, I hear my peers say that Black women aren’t attractive, and that Latinos steal jobs. You would think that the white families who pay such good money for these amazing schools would have kids that are amazingly educated, right? Maybe your son knows how to find the derivative of a function, but I can tell you he does not know how to treat people of other backgrounds with respect. So what is really more important? What has he really been learning at school?

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