Sunday, March 15, 2015

The One Where I Grew Up #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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I grew up in a quaint town on Lake Michigan about thirty miles north of Chicago. It's absolutely beautiful with windy roads, tree-filled ravines, and a manicured beach perfect for long walks and hot-day swims. I'm grateful I went to the amazing schools there and I cherish memories of friendships, walking to town on half-days of school, and catching candy thrown from floats at the annual parade. But since leaving, I've realized it sits in a kind of curious little bubble. Most people are wealthy there. Near the lake, houses are literally mansions. In high school, it felt like everyone wore Abercrombie or Gap and drove Jeep Wranglers or VW Jettas. And most people were white.

The 2000 census (closest to when I graduated high school), says the racial makeup of the city was:
  • 95.80% White
  • 1.35% African American
  • 0.06% Native American
  • 2.45% Asian
  • 0.13% Pacific Islander
  • 0.44% from other races
  • 0.77% from two or more races
  • 0.87% Hispanic or Latino of any race 
When I graduated from high school in 1998 and went to college, I found out how diverse the world is. It was a huge contrast to what I was used to. 

Without knowing it, where I grew up influenced me to value and identify more with being white. I'm sad as I sit and write this because I love my hometown and my childhood, but I know there are times in my life when I've been embarrassed of being Hispanic or that I've made sure to clarify that I'm Hispanic but I'm also white because I developed an understanding of being white to be better from being around mostly white people who had nice things and lived in fancy places.

At home, my mom shared Guatemalan traditions, my relatives spoke Spanish, and I developed a sense of understanding of my Hispanic heritage even though I never visited Guatemala myself. But the Hispanic side of me was rarely celebrated at school and no one else was Hispanic like I was (there was one girl who was in the class ahead of me...). Because I wanted to fit in with peers, I naturally gravitated towards being and acting white. Again, this makes me so sad to write this but it's the truth.

And now I'm crying in Starbucks. 

It's a weird mix of memories and emotions as I think about my life in this new light. My life was always my life. But now I'm finally seeing and acknowledging how growing up in Lake Forest made me feel like it was better to be white. Being white meant being rich, being smart, being respected and that's what I wanted to be.

I'm crying because I hate it. 
I hate myself for ever thinking that white is better. 
I hate myself for feeling that Hispanic isn't as good. 
I hate the world and society for leading me to believe this. 

Because it isn't true. And I know that

It's yucky having to face this. 
To analyze 
the world 
and see things I don't want to see.

But despite it all, I know...

No one person is better than another.

Each and everyone of us is important and capable and more than enough. I've always loved people, making new friends and wanting to help people feel welcome in new situations. I believe being part white and part Hispanic has helped me see different perspectives. It's helped me empathize and understand others. I'm so thankful for my college, working in the school district I have for thirteen years, and living in a more diverse community for ten years. Since leaving my hometown, I've had amazing opportunities to connect more with being Hispanic and to expand my world and my understanding of it. But I'm more passionate about continuing to share my story and help others expand their thinking.

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below:

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