I was born in Ciudad Juarez Mexico, next door to El Paso, Texas. My family and I moved to El Paso in 1997 for better work opportunities,education, and a better standard of living. I attended U.S. public schools from third grade through high school, and then went on to study at the community college level, first in El Paso and then in Lubbock.
When we moved across the border from Mexico to the U.S, I didn’t notice much difference in culture. People still spoke Spanish to me, we continued to celebrate the same holidays, including el Dia de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo. My style of dress didn’t change much. The only difference was that most residents of the U.S. side of the border had new cars, cell phones, computers and brand name purses.
In school, I didn’t feel discrimination from my fellow students or teachers, or from our neighbors on the east side. Most of them also spoke Spanish.
That all changed when I moved to Lubbock to attend college. The city is primarily white (165,000 residents are white), but has around 108,000 Hispanic and other races and ethnicities.
At my school, I noticed that the only time white students mingled with students of other backgrounds was for group assignments. The rest of the time each racial or ethnic group stuck with its own.
Most of the time the white students and even the Hispanic students ignored me. I believe it was because they thought I was “too Mexican” compared to them. I still spoke with a strong Spanish accent and wondered if they avoided me because I was different. Maybe they thought I wanted to fight them or steal something from them.
If I overheard someone make a derogatory comment about a black or Latino student, or any other race, I would keep quiet because I knew intuitively that if I complained the school officials wouldn’t believe me.
Some teachers used to make jokes about Latinos. One male teacher joked in front of the class: “If I were to take this shirt to a poor country they will steal it from me,” the teacher said. The rest of the class broke into laughter but I didn’t think it was funny.
At first, I didn’t feel comfortable walking down city streets or going into stores because I felt I didn’t fit in. I still feel sad about how I was treated there.
Over time, I acclimated to the predominately white culture and made friends with whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Arabs, Asians and Indians. I realized that anyone can harbor racist feelings toward other races, even Latinos against whites. It depends on your personal experience.
Three years ago I returned to El Paso to pursue my bachelor’s degree. I felt at home again within my Latino culture and native language.
On the other hand, the racism is something that is not going to stop and I know how it feels because I lived it. I realize that racism is still present everywhere. Some recent examples are events in Ferguson, New York City, and Baltimore where black men were mistreated and killed by white police officers. I am disappointed that President Barack Obama, our first black president, hasn’t been able to do more to stop racism in this country.
I know how it feels to be discriminated against because of my skin color, nationality and accent. I know others have experienced similar discrimination. Racism will continue to be part of our society until people start treating others as they want themselves to be treated. With dignity and respect.