EDINBURG, Tex. — Has a stranger ever come up to you and asked you if you were a freak? As you can probably guess, it’s happened to me. As a naïve 8th grader, I didn’t know what to make of a question like that. Two months earlier I had relocated from Topeka, Kansas to Hidalgo, Texas; a really big change at a difficult time in a child’s life. With white and blue tennis shoes covered in glitter and eyes lined with black liner, I walked in to my new school timidly, but unsuspecting of anything unusual. Walls painted blue and gold, the school colors, check. Lockers lining the hallway, check. Trophies in the trophy case, check. It looked just like any ordinary school and it was; the problem was the people.
“No,” was the simple answer I gave that stranger. What else could I say? Why were they even asking me that? To be honest, I didn’t even know what they meant by “freak” or if they even knew what it meant. Back in Kansas, that word was reserved for someone so far out that it was the only way they could be classified and I rarely heard it. That certainly didn’t describe me. Sure, my headphones blasted System of a Down and Korn at the time, but clearly someone else had to listen to those bands, right? I later found out that no one did. Was it my eyeliner? My ripped jeans? Was I a freak for my clothing and music choices? Well to Valley people, I guess I was. Fourteen years of wisdom wasn’t enough to handle bullies and I would inevitably cry all the way home and resent my parents for putting me in such a situation. Walking down the halls in Hidalgo, I would pretend they were the halls in my old school in Kansas, where I could wear a rainbow jumpsuit and shave my head and no one would give me a second thought. I longed to be back home.
That year’s experience burned me. I couldn’t understand how people could be so judgmental, hurtful and not to mention, closed-minded. From my point of view, anything or anyone who was different was treated like an anomaly. I could feel eyes on me constantly and hear theories about what was wrong with me being whispered from blind ear to blind ear. In Kansas, it was good to be an individual, to be your own person. In the Valley, you must be like everyone else, at least that’s the way I have felt. At the time I chalked it up to the ignorance of children, but as time passed, it seemed that even older people who are supposed to know better act the same way; apprehension of the unknown, fear of change. Growing up, I was taught to value diversity, to be curious of what’s different to me. Maybe it’s the mentality that is brought over from strict Mexican society or the widespread Catholic lifestyle that is prevalent in the Valley, but it was sort of like a culture shock when trying to adapt to life here and culture shock was not something I was prepared for considering I relocated across state lines, not country borders.
I like to think of the Valley sort of as a confused child; it’s too isolated to be completely American, but not Mexican enough to be Mexican, that’s one way I can identify with it. I spent my childhood living as an American, but at 14 was thrown into a Mexican world that I knew nothing about. My parents did speak Spanish to me in Kansas, but I didn’t learn in well enough to fit in here and was yet another reason Valley kids had to ridicule me. Like the Valley, I didn’t think I was good enough for either the American or Mexican side and I often wondered where I fit in within the whole equation.
I don’t mean to be a hypocrite and be judgmental to the Valley, but I honestly believe that opening up your mind to what you don’t know will open up your world to things you wouldn’t even imagine. Don’t be afraid that the new things you learn will change you and if they do, embrace the new person that emerges because you will be more cultured and educated about the world and instead of stereotyping others, you will know the truth.
A decade later, I’ve grown and learned beyond my dreams. I know Valley people aren’t bad people, they just value different things. Mexican culture cherishes family and the people around them and I can see why the threat of a stranger can be seen as defiant. Still, my intention was never to interfere with anyone’s life, but rather to simply live my own life and maybe meet some accepting people along the way; I’m happy to report I eventually did. Looking back on my childhood experience, I’m glad that things happened the way they did because I gained a deeper appreciation for the person that I am. I’m glad I’ve lived from two different perspectives from two different parts of the country. Moreover, I’m glad that I’ve obliterated the notion that to be American meant to be American and nothing else. Now I know that it’s okay to be Mexican-American, Asian-American or whatever else you can manage to place in front of America. However, if I can offer up some advice to those Valley people who refuse to budge to the diversification of the Valley: if you see someone different, who isn’t like you, doesn’t dress like you, doesn’t listen to the same music you do, don’t belittle them. Open your minds and see the beauty of contrast in the world. Discrimination and indistinguishability in the Valley may be okay, but I guarantee that if you leave the Valley with a Valley mindset, you’re going to be the freak wherever you end up.