This I Believe

Maria - Berwyn, Pennsylvania
Entered on February 25, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

“A Desperado-pretender”

Imagine, my whole family at the beach, my cousins and I parading around the amusement park – looking to be amused. Now, when you think of a family, you think … related. Usually this relation is recognizable by a nonmember. But here at the beach come a cluster of laughing, bumbling teenagers: a daydreaming girl, 17, who, by skin and hair, appears to be African-American; a desperado-pretender, 16, who’s skin, after hours on the beach, is only one shade lighter; a determined girl, 20, who, by stereotype, fits the Hispanic tan; a diffident girl, 18, close to the previous in color and look, but the tan faded by a northern climate; and a dutiful girl, 16, unmistakably “white” and slightly sun burnt. A man behind the prize stand asks them, “Are you all family?”

That is my family. Those are my cousins. I believe that diversity should enlighten us. I believe we fall victim to our prejudices everyday. I believe that when acknowledged, discrimination can be fought.

I am that white girl. This side of my family is Puerto Rican. Here I am the minority. Funny thing is, I’ve lived my whole life in a rich white world. Here my two sisters and my mother are the minorities.

It was in an Elementary school that my mother first reflected on my color. While picking up my sister from Kindergarten, my mother was confronted by a white mother of another child. With a pleasant smile she asked (looking at my tan-skinned sister and pale-skinned me) “Do you always baby-sit her?” My mother was thrown-off. She didn’t understand. Then it hit her … the woman thought my mother was my nanny!

Now, I could bash on this lady’s ignorance, but the truth is, she is a product of her surroundings. She saw my skin, she saw my mother’s, and she responded with experience-typical prejudices. And though I would like to claim some moral status above the rest, I cannot, because recently my fight against ignorance has been shaken. I paraded around thinking, “How come no black students are in my classes?” and, “Where are all the Hispanics”. Then, this year, a Hispanic boy joins my Honors classes, dressed in a baggy t-shirt, droopy jeans and “bling” down to his waist. What’s the first thing I think, was it “Yea, way to represent!” Nope, it was, “What inner city did this kid come from?” and thoughts of how hard this kid must be struggling in these classes … Shocked? Me too. I have Hispanic blood too. And he almost looks identical to the desperado-pretender I mentioned before.

I do not consider myself a racist. But I, like every race and ethnic profile out there, have prejudices. I am Puerto Rican-Italian-American by blood; I was born to find strength in diversity; I am as “aware” as others have made me; I am ignorant to my ignorance; I believe discrimination can be stopped.