A few days ago I was going through a few boxes of junk that I’ve been toting around the country for years. Mostly old tax stuff and business records that I was supposed to save for x number of years. I decided to take a little time and carefully go through each folder, so as not to throw out anything important. Sure enough, I came across this essay that a 17 year old girl gave to me about 15 years ago. I probably had only read it once at the time. In the last couple of days I have probably read it 10 times. She didn’t title it, so I will:
Racism Is Ignorant
I was sitting in the front row of my honors physics class waiting for the teacher to arrive. The people around me were conversing as they always did when the teacher was late. Another instructor walked into the room to inform us that our teacher would be a little later than usual; therefore, he would take the attendance. He started to call the names on the list. “David Brown, Amy Clinton, Jose Gonzales…Is this the right list?” he incredulously inquired.
“No! Do you really think there would be a Jose Gonzalez in this class?” laughed an outspoken student. The rest of the class joined in with laughter. Someone in the back row directing his comment to the teacher said, “This is an honors physics class.”
Angry and confused, I sat in my seat trying to interpret the racist remarks I had just heard. They were insidious. Then I focused my attention on the teacher, waiting for him to set the students straight, but he said nothing. It was as if he had ignored the whole incident. He returned to his business of calling attendance, but I do not remember any details after that because I was replaying the incident in my head.
The part that angered me the most was the fact that the class did not realize that indeed there was a Hispanic among them. It was not Jose Gonzalez, but it was I, Sharon _____.
Feelings of isolation and alienation overcame me. I could not bring myself to say anything because I was in shock. Having known these people for more than three years, I considered them my friends. My classmates, although aware of my ethnicity, did not associate me with my Hispanic heritage. They had separated me from other Hispanic people as an exception to their stereotypes, because according to them “Hispanics” are not smart enough to be in those classes, referring to the accelerated track.
When people judge me from my appearance it is not immediately apparent that I am Hispanic. My American name does not indicate my ethnicity either. I have light brown hair and light skin which allow me to “pass” as Caucasian.
The reality of my life is that I have grown up in low-income housing projects and attend school on the other side of town. I spend my day with classmates who live far from my neighborhood. My daily reality is split between my school experience and my home life.
Living in the projects has allowed me to witness how some minorities live and to understand why there are few of them present in the more demanding accelerated courses at my high school. The children in my neighborhood receive little encouragement from their parents. Most of the parents in my neighborhood have a high school diploma or less. The parents either work more than one job or are not employed at all.
I tutor elementary school children in an after school program because most of them have no help once they arrive home. Frequently, children who are capable of achieving at a high level of academic work are not challenged to accomplish more. They are allowed to be complacent and are taught indirectly by the adults around them not to aspire for more in life.
The experience in my physics classroom was a negative experience, but it helped me to realize how separate the honors students are from the daily reality the rest of the school encounters. My classmates do not understand that they have certain advantages that other students do not, which make it possible for them to do well. The less fortunate need to struggle with other issues and may not be able to focus on their education.
Isn’t it ironic how the people who consider themselves superior can at times be so insensitive and ignorant? The miracle of it all was that she had no one to help her with her homework. Her mom spoke very little English (and read even less), and as a product of divorce, I was not there to help either. I’ve shared this story because if it inspires only one person who feel hopeless, maybe, just maybe, they won’t give up. By the way, Sharon has worked for the same company for 10 years now. She has a position of much responsibility at a multi-national company. She travels all over the world and is doing very well for herself.
The little girl that wrote this essay is my little girl. My daughter, Sharon. This essay was only one of the many, many awesome things that she did that allowed her a full scholarship to Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
The miracle of it all was that she had no one to help her with her homework. Her mom spoke very little English (and read even less), and as a product of divorce, I was not there to help either.
I’ve shared this story because if it inspires only one person who feel hopeless, maybe, just maybe, they won’t give up.
By the way, Sharon has worked for the same company for 10 years now. She has a position of much responsibility at a multi-national company. She travels all over the world and is doing very well for herself.