Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Dear Christina,

So you think high school is the worse time of your life? Ha! If you only knew what awaits you.

Unfortunately, it will be the first time you experience racism and classism. You won't even know that's what's happening when the head of the language department tells you that you can't take Spanish as a foreign language because of your surname and implies that you are only trying to get an easy A. You won't get it when the headmaster pulls you and all the other kids of color out of class for a special "ethics" lesson where he basically accuses you of theft and reminds you of the privilege you've been bestowed by attending that school (as if you hadn't busted your butt studying to get scholarships that pay your tuition, and in turn his salary). Never mind that every student of color in that room knew exactly who had been stealing out of people's lockers and the culprit was still sitting in class because his skin color didn't match the color in the room. That girl who asked if one of your parents is white is the first in a series. Have a little fun with it. Next time someone asks where you're from, make up some obscure place, or turn the tables and ask them the same thing and don't take "American" and "white" as acceptable answers.

In a way, you should thank all those kids who looked at you funny, never asked you to sit with them in the cafeteria, mispronounced your last name, and stared at you in class. They are getting you over your culture shock so that when you move to Iowa and follow a predominantly white career path you will know how to see past it, ignore it and rise above it all without being bothered. And all those high school boys who look past you and make you feel ugly? Rest assured that you will come across many others who will make you feel beautiful and who will not exoticize you. Be proud that you did not chase them or settle, but that you looked right past them, too. 

Relish that A in Dr. Nguyen's chemistry class. It's the hardest A you've fought for yet and you should be proud of it. Most of the time you take good grades for granted, but you worked really hard for this one, studying late into the night, missing hours of work to go to extra labs and office hours, and asking your college student cousin for help. I'm still proud of you for that one!

You are a warrior. That school and those times you cried because you wanted to transfer but stuck it out were a major battle and you overcame. You lived in two entirely different worlds and you made it work. At home, you feel like an outsider and people you've known your whole life call you a sellout and ask you why you "talk white". Don't be insulted by their ignorance and don't feel bad about your education, diction or vocabulary. At school, you feel out of place and unwelcome. Hold your head up and remember that you earned a place there more so than the kids who got there because of mommy and daddy's bank account. When you feel lonely and isolated remember this: You are paving the way for the Latinas who will come after you and you will support them in the way you wish you had been supported. One day you will be proud of that. You won't realize until years later how important it is to have support in academia. 

You don't believe this now, but one day you will look back on high school and remember the good times. You will come away from there with friends who will stand at your wedding and spend time with your daughter. While you will never care to return to that place, you will still recall the pride you felt the day you were accepted, and what that meant not only for you but for your parents who sacrificed just as much and worked twice as hard as you did to get there. It will be their victory when you walk across that stage and accept your diploma. This place and time was a necessary step to thicken your skin for what was to come. And honestly, it had its bright moments and once you are far enough removed, it will be a lot easier to remember them fondly.

Friends who made high school bearable

A reflective adult Christina

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