Tolerance. Ever since I was little, I was always taught by my parents and teachers to always accept people the way they are; they called it tolerance. They always told me that tolerance was almost like the Golden Rule, “you need to accept people they way they are if you want to be accepted the way you are; its only fair.” So, as a good little girl, I would do my best to follow that rule to make my parents happy and to be tolerated. I believed in tolerance.
My tolerance was first tested when I had moved to Eagle Pass, Texas (a small town, five minutes away from the border), toward the end of my 5th grade year. On the first day of my new class, a girl from my classroom had greeted me in Spanish, “Hola! Como te llamas?” I simply replied, “Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.” She asked me if I was huera, “white”. I replied no, stating that I was Mexican and so were my parents and grandparents and their parents. She gave me the dirtiest look I had ever seen and I knew, she did not tolerate my kind. I looked around and realized that everyone in the classroom was Mexican (growing up in the South, I did not see much of them other than my family). Everyone knew Spanish and they knew that I did not.
Later on, just about the whole class, even our teacher, did not tolerate me. They would not greet themselves to me. They wouldn’t even speak a single word to me. Not a single, “Hello,” or “Can I borrow a pen?”
I remember hearing them whisper names about me: cocoanut, gringa, stupid. The names spun in my head and I was angry at them, angry at myself. I did not tolerate them for not tolerating me. I did not tolerate myself for not knowing Spanish. I did not even tolerate my parents for not teaching me Spanish.
It was towards the end of my first day in class. All the students went to the back of the room to retrieve our book bags. I was looking for my bag when I saw it underneath another bag. I picked it up and moved it aside. The owner of the bag then pushed me down. She said, “Don’t throw my bag!” in Spanish. I was about to go off when these two boys stood in front of me, facing her, and said, “Don’t tease her.” That was when I realized that there was not one, but two people who tolerated me.
When the bell ranged they asked me if I was okay. I replied yes and asked them what their names were. A smaller one, about my height (back then), replied, “My name is Ricardo.” The bigger one replied, “I’m David.” They had apologized about the way the whole class had acted towards me. They explained to me that when one lives in a small Spanish community and is Mexican, it is expected of them to know Spanish and that it’s blasphemous if you don’t. But they told me that not everyone believed that; them being one of those few. They understood that some Mexicans didn’t know Spanish and that was okay with them because they told me that they have a few cousins that were like me and they tolerated it.
I said, “Thank you Ricardo and David for accepting me for the way I am.” That was when I re-believed in tolerance.
Afterwards, I tolerated the class. Sure, there were always kids ridiculing me for not knowing Spanish, and it hurt really bad. But I just tolerated them because they were ignorant and did not understand the reason I never learned to speak Spanish…. No matter how many times I’ve tried to explain. In the end, even though they couldn’t accept me, they stop messing with me the whole year.
Not knowing Spanish made me feel left out and not tolerated. For a little while, I couldn’t even tolerate the people that did not tolerate me. But I learned that I can be tolerated for who I am, even if not everyone else does. All I have to do I just treat everyone the same and maybe they’ll accept and tolerate me too. Till this day, I still believe in Tolerance. It’s only fair that you accept someone so that they can accept you.
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