Ethnicity

Students Speak: Stephanie Mayo ’15

By Stephanie Mayo
CONTRIBUTOR

I used to hate being Mexican.

Because I learned about my culture and the political changes my people have made to get me the rights I have today, I fell in love with my background, my people, and myself for the struggles we have faced.

My parents are both undocumented, which framed my childhood experiences. Although my parents both worked hard during my childhood to maintain a home for me and my sister, my family still struggled paying the bills. When my dad became unemployed when I was in 8th grade, my family’s financial situation worsened. My mom had a difficult time paying the bills on her own, while my father looked for a job.mHe is still unemployed.  Because I saw that my parents could not pay the bills, that they could not help me academically and that they depended on me a lot with speaking English, I saw my parents as an embarrassment. They could not help me succeed even if they wanted the best for me.

What made me dislike my family and my background even more was attending the  predominantly Hispanic public school in my community. In my high school, I saw that many students of color did not do well academically. Not knowing them very well, I assumed that they were what my parents were in my eyes: a disgrace to my community. I assumed that just because they were Mexican, they were a bunch of lazy students who did not care about doing well academically.

I was wrong.

I began to get involved with my community organization my sophomore year of high school, where I worked with people of color, mostly Hispanics. In the beginning of my experience in working with my community, I made assumptions about the people I had to work with. Working with people who had not worked hard or who were not smart (according to the U.S. education system) made me look down on the people I had to work with—my own people. Reluctantly, I worked with them.

By working with my people, I learned about the struggles that they had to go through. I learned that the students in my community often had to work after school or had to take care of their siblings while their parents worked all day to help their families get by. I slowly began to understand where they were coming from. I doubt I would have done well in high school if I had to work eight or even twelve hours at night, or if I had to take care of my younger sister and my household.

In addition to learning about the struggles my people experience on a daily basis, I also met my organizers, who really appreciated their backgrounds. Whenever my community organization discussed the injustices my community has faced, I learned more and more about the protests my people have held. My organizers taught me about César Chávez, a Mexican-American who organized the labor movement in California for better work conditions for farm workers. I learned about the Chicano movement in California, where Hispanic students got together to fight for bilingual education. Learning about my people fighting for social change made me love my background. I want others who have do not have pride in their ethnicities to get the same feeling I have.

In the U.S., we are not taught the beauty of being a person of color. The media, one of the few portrayals of people of color, only depicts us in a negative way. In school, we are only taught about American history from the white perspective. At home, we do not get to appreciate our people’s history because we are so busy working. It is no wonder that people of color, including myself, end up looking down on their own culture.

I do not want students to hate their culture like I once did. Beloit College should have more classes that teach what people of color experience in the U.S. —from the perspective of a person of color.

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