Within a week or two, many American children will saying good-bye to their summer break. This annual conversion (like most things) made me think about my youth. When I think back on my role as a public school student, it incites mixed feelings.
First through third grade in East Los Angeles was a breeze. I had the nicest Gringa teachers. Everyone was poor and Hispanic like me. And fashion was not an issue because all mothers shopped at the same place.
Pasadena Unified School District was another social planet for me. From fourth grade to high school, severe and passive stress was always with me. The stress was social in nature. Morenitas like me were in short supply. So I attempted to be a chameleon.
If around black kids, I sounded ‘black’. Bear in mind, this was the 80s in Southern California. If around white kids, I sounded like a rich ‘valley girl’. Asian, Armenian and Middle Eastern kids where clannish for the most part.
One question seemed to come up repeatedly throughout my school days. My answer to this question would play a huge role in my place on the pecking order. Question: What are you? What does that mean, you may ask? It refers to race, what type of music you like, what clique do you belong to and where do you hang out.
I tried to use my wit to deflect this loaded question. ‘I’m your Latina sell-out’ or ’I'm your tamale connection” or ‘I’m whatever you say I am.” Sometimes it worked. Other times it didn’t. Did I try to pass for white? Yes, I did. Sad and pathetic, I know. But what do you want? I was a desperate, clueless kid.
I should have answered, ‘I’m a scared, nice and poor girl’. Of course, I would have been rewarded with psyche-shattering taunting for at least three years from the beautiful crowd. Jocks, preppies, cheerleaders and the drama club divas could psychologically break down any terrorist and/or spy.
All parents should have this conversation with their kids. We all know about school shootings and suicides. I hope the school vibe has changed, but I suspect it hasn’t. I hope I’m wrong.