Looking over the new Reedsy prompts last Friday, I loved the prompts. I think they are great outlets to discuss what needs to be discussed and I appreciate that. At first, I had no idea what to write. “How can I write about events and topics that have a huge importance properly?” I asked myself. I have sat in confusion since then, wondering about what and how I should project my voice. A few minutes ago, as I was walking to get my laptop to further sit in front of the screen and stare at it until I had an idea, I remembered a small yet significant occurrence from one of my years in high school.
I grew up in a large town in California. I guess you could say that the beachy, chill stereotype applies to the people there. Although we lived twenty minutes away from the ocean, I still felt a connection to it. The ocean’s waves were therapeutic and I often thought about waves of change in my life. In that area, there are less white people than there are people who are Latino and Hispanic. Spanish and English are both widely spoken there. Many people living there are first or second generation immigrants. My mother is white and my father is Latino, so I sometimes felt the effects of racism. I was bullied in middle school over my dad’s dark skin. Some of the other students there called him a terrorist and although they did not call me names, it still hurt. Standing up to them was pointless. My voice was only capable of fading while the cruel words of those multiple people were only getting louder. I was also once hit by a white woman in her car a few years later while I was taking the trash out for my high school’s school nurse next to the school’s staff parking lot. There were many occasions that I had done that for her, since I helped her out as her assistant for my last period, but that time was frightening. I feared for my life at that moment, which should come as no surprise. I could have been really physically injured. She yelled out of her car window, “You Mexican, you move too slow!” That is minus the expletives. She then rushed past me after I quickly moved aside and I stood in horror while she exited the parking lot. Later that day, I went home and sobbed. She did not physically hurt me, but what happened damaged me emotionally. In elementary school, academically, I was at the top of my classes. In fourth grade, I was practically always academically equal to a student named Daniel. He bullied me and was sexist and racist. It was too much for my nine year old self to handle and my mental state and the bullying only worsened over time. He also bragged about skipping a grade in school, so he also saw me lesser than him because of that. I once opened up to my teacher and cried about how I could not take how Daniel was treating me. My teacher was understanding and had faced racism himself. This man is Jewish and Hispanic. I have not seen him in years, but I can imagine that it is still difficult for him to deal with how he is treated by horrible people. He told me, “Don’t tell anyone I told you this but Daniel did not only skip a grade, he also was held back a year. So technically, he is right where you are.” That made me feel better. In middle school, a fellow student would often tell me to go back to Mexico. I have never been in Mexico and I was born in the same town I had lived in for practically my whole life. I asked him to stop, with no success. While writing about all of this, I am fighting back tears. I have never opened up about how all of this has affected me. My dad has also dealt with racism and he tries to come across as if it does not bother him, but I can tell it does. Coincidentally, he grew up in the same city as my mom. But their lives there were completely different. This city has been full of white supremacy over the years. He dealt with a lot of difficult times in his lifetime, because of him being Latino and also due to other factors. My mom grew up with hardships, but her race was never a part of her struggles. My dad’s sister also went through a lot and being Latina brought additional terrible times. She was bullied by a group of racist girls for months in high school and one day, she was fed up. She punched the cruelest of them right in the face. My dad’s sister was expelled from school that day, but the racist bullies never faced punishment throughout the months of harassing my dad’s sister. Some time after that happened, the one who was punched apologized to my dad’s sister. My dad and his sister also noticed that her front teeth were gone. I guess getting her teeth knocked out was what was needed to teach her that she needed to be a better person. That whole ordeal my dad’s sister had was not an isolated incident. My dad has worked so hard over the years to get where he is today. He is a professor at a great university and has taught there for over twenty years. He has been offered jobs at many other universities in California, some of them being huge names. But he has refused to take them. People at his school have similar upbringings as he has and helping them is more important to him than working at a UC. His qualifications don’t erase the prejudice he has gone through. For example, my mom was pulled over once for running a red light. I was a child then and I was late to swim class. She explained the situation and the policeman gave her a ticket, but was quick with it. The whole thing was over in ten minutes. When I was a teenager, my dad was pulled over for no reason by a police officer. All my dad did was take a right turn. The policeman harassed him and luckily, my dad used his knowledge of what to do if that happened. I was so relieved that he made it home that night.
Those experiences bring me pain, but I am thankful that was not worse. I am thankful that the woman did not end up running me over. I can never understand the mindset of people who are homophobic, racist, xenophobic, or have other prejudices. I do not know how someone can have so much hate within and I do not know how they can be so cruel to others who are different from them.
Trayvon Martin is the first person who was killed due to a racist who I saw on the news. I was thirteen and I cried. He was just a kid and looking at his face still makes me feel so emotional. His youth was robbed from him. I remember many other incidents of police brutality and racist violence against black people. Eric Garner was choked and in pain. I just looked at the Wikipedia page that has details on his death and he said “I can’t breathe” eleven times while being injured. Eleven times. I watched the video of it on television and it still plays in my mind when I think about it and when I think about how he died later on that day. I was sixteen at that time and hearing about his death made me sick and it always will. I was eighteen when Philando Castile was killed by a policeman during a traffic stop. Nearly four years later, I think of him and his loved ones often. I am looking at his Wikipedia page too and a chilling detail that I will always remember is that his partner and his partner’s young daughter were in the car when the tragedy happened. Looking at Wikipedia pages of what happened when these black men were killed is not right. I should be looking at Wikipedia pages of their lives and I should be reading about how they are still living. Imagine if Philando had a Wikipedia page for his life and imagine if it was still going. He would be 36 years old and maybe would have a promotion at his job at the school he worked at. He was a nutrition services supervisor at a school. I wonder what Trayvon would be doing. What would Ahmaud Arbery be doing right now? Breonna Taylor? Tamir Rice? Stephon Clark? Alton Sterling? Antwon Rose Jr.? I could keep typing more names for too long.
In early August 2014, I started my third year of high school. Right after that school year started, on August 9th, Michael Brown Jr. was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael was eighteen years old when his life was stolen from him. He was two years older than me. Once again, I was sickened and saddened. A lot happened after that. Chaos ensued in Ferguson. The Black Lives Matter movement began to become bigger than it was before. And that is when the small act of solidarity began in my first period classroom.
In the United States, students are required to put their hands on their hearts and say the American pledge of allegiance every morning. Well, I am not completely sure if it is like that everywhere, but it was at every school I attended or volunteered at. Before we were able to begin lessons, we had to say it in unison. There were consequences in the schools I went to if a student refused to do it. I remember students getting in trouble when they did not recite it with the class. I learned the pledge before I learned to read. It is still hard to understand why it is so important to say it. Other countries do not have their students recite pledges every morning, so why did we? When I became an adult and moved to another country, I realized that it was propaganda like. Learning to be patriotic was apparently more important than learning to read to whoever was in charge of my school. Anyways, it all became different in early August 2014. One day, a black classmate of mine stood up during the pledge along with the rest of the class. But he did not have his hand over his heart. He raised his hand and closed his fist. I cannot remember if he faced consequences for it or not. Over the next few days, others did the same. So did I. Then, one by one, the class started to sit down. It was powerful. I remember times where I would silently cry because it was so meaningful and moving. Tears would quietly fall from my eyes and onto the papers on my desk. Many of us had pent up anger that we felt like we were forced to hide. We were done with what was going on in our country. We were not adults yet and it felt like we were more upset than some adults out there. The beginning of each day began in solidarity. For some of us, it was the only way we felt like we were able to show our sadness and rage. The teacher gave up on trying to have us all participate in saying the pledge of allegiance and having us stand. I do not know if she sided with us or did not want to bother punishing thirty students, but I think she supported us students. We kept doing it for a while and after that all began, we did not stand up once for the pledge after that. I think she also respected that we were sick of the system and maybe she was too.
Racism is not something that started recently in the United States. It has been going on for centuries. Slavery in the south ended in the 1860s, but the discrimination against black people did not end there. The south was segregated until a hundred years after slavery was abolished. Prejudice against black people and others who were not white did not stop there either and it was not just confined to the southern parts of the US. Racism is not confined to only the United States either, it is a global problem.
I moved to Germany over a year and a half ago. I now live in a city that has non Germans representing about a fourth or fifth of the population. My German classes here have consisted of people from all over the world. I have met people from over fifty countries and from five continents. Never once here have I seen discrimination in my city, but that does not mean it does not exist. In the last year, I remember acts of terrorism against those who are Jewish and Muslim in other parts of the country. Germany is not the same as what it was in the 1930s and 1940s and now it has a population of residents from not only Germany, but also from all over the world. Living here is a dream come true, but lately I have felt immense guilt. Seeing where I am from getting to the state it is in and not being able to do anything about it can feel excruciating, but I feel more confident in how it is now than it was in August 2014. Others from my classes in high school are protesting, speaking up, and studying certain subjects in their universities to create change.
I will never forget my first period class from 2014 to 2015 and the small yet rebellious act we did every morning right at eight. As a young adult, I am hopeful that people my age can make a change and excited to see what my generation can do for the future of the United States and the world. Little acts of solidarity can come a long way and make an even bigger one.