Friday, September 14, 2007

Shaking Off Stereotypes

Today, the kids and I went to lunch with our park friends. The eldest played as I tried to chat with the other moms while chasing the littlest Bee. Nothing weird or interesting to point out about our outing, but I can never help but notice that I am the only person of color. I know that this is partially a consequence of where I live. Our neighborhood is predominantly Caucasian, and because we visit our neighborhood park, we make many Caucasian friends. All lovely people - very friendly, kind, and thoughtful. I never really think about the fact that they are Caucasian and I am Hispanic, but every once in a while, when we start talking about our own childhoods, it hits me, their experience was nothing like mine.

Growing up, I've always had very americanized friends of different races because I've never felt like I could completely relate to either culture. I was somewhere in between American and Mexican, and I tended to gravitate to people who felt the same way. Yet, as a child I quickly learned that being a minority meant that I would be followed by all the stereotypes that society had put out there about being a Hispanic. Even to this day, I always feel an intense need to shake these stereotypes off, but they follow me like a shadow or stormy cloud wherever I go. When I meet someone new, I'm instantly tagged by these stereotypes and the expectations of me that come along with them. My first task is to prove that I do not fit the stereotype, but that is never easy.

I'll never forget when, as an adolescent, we moved to California for the third time just as I was entering middle school. Again, I was living in a mostly Caucasian neighborhood. I remember spending my first few weeks of school trying to prove to my peers that I wasn't stupid. Whenever I did well on a test, it was assumed that I cheated, and it actually prompted many in my proximity to cover their papers whenever we tested. After all, aren't Hispanics only capable of achieving menial, no-brainer jobs like cleaning houses, busing tables, mowing lawns, and other things of that nature? It took me a year to prove that I actually had a brain, and that I was looking for something more than what society had already designated for me. By the end of the second year, people were asking to copy off my paper.

I guess I am just wondering what my children's experience is going to be like. Will they be immune from the stereotypes that followed me because they don't look Hispanic, or will they quickly be tagged once their peers find out that they are indeed at least partially Hispanic? I am willing to bet that the color of their skin will be predominantly used to prejudge them, after all, that brown lady who picks them up is nothing more than the nanny despite what they say. Yet, even if people assume that they are Caucasian, what will their experience be like? Will they be prejudged as harshly as I was for being Hispanic, or will they be spared any stereotypes? Will they be judged as an individual, and actually be given a chance to make their own impression on people without first being labeled? I hope this for them, as I still hope this for myself, but still, I know nothing about growing up Caucasian and the stereotypes that come or don't come with that.


veronica said...

I completely relate to your feeling of not quite relating to other peoples' childhoods. Too quickly the derogatory remarks from my own childhood come racing up to the forefront of my memory.
Even today... well, you're not the only one who has been asked if you were your child's nanny. Seriously. Seriously!

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for coming over and visiting my blog.

I can completely relate to your post. Obviously, not as a Latina, but in America it seems all minorities at the very core share similar experiences.

It pains me to think about my kids living with this as well. I can only hope that by the time they are old enough to understand it, I will have provided them with enough support and strength to help educate people.

But I wish other people just knew better.