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Through Their Lenses Part One:  Whitewash

Through Their Lenses Part One: Whitewash

In the coming weeks, the Tower will be releasing a short series of articles—an expose if you will—that will confront the topic of race through multiple lenses. The purpose of these installments is not to vilify, but to spread awareness to the Graceland community as well as the community at large. I hope you read these with intention and open your heart and mind.

From grade school on, I’ve always had to deal with the conflict of having dirty blood. Although mixed babies are arguably the prettiest babies, it’s for good reason—the shit we deal with is 10-fold that of pure bloods. I say it’s harder in that you can’t fit in with either side—neither wants you. I played soccer growing up, but I was also in band. Now I’m not going to sit here and stereotype, but my soccer friends typically had more melanin than my band friends—and they made that very apparent.

When I was with my soccer friends, I was constantly harassed for being a ‘fake Mexican;’ constantly told I wasn’t a real Mexican, and that I talked white. I didn’t know a lot of their customs, I couldn’t speak Spanish with them, and it really adjusted the way I thought about and presented myself.

Now for some background. I hale from Kenosha, WI a segregated area of the Midwest that has a high minority population as well as a strongly conservative white population. My white friend group was the group I most hung out with. I think that has to do with the stature that they had in the school as cis white men. At any rate, these were my friends that I grew up with; we played football in backyards; we swam in pools together; and we made fun of the Mexicans at our school together. Beaner this. Beaner that.

Of course, this was all in good fun–or so we thought. I’d sit with my white friend group during lunch, catty-corner to the Hispanic table. We all bought our lunches from the school, whereas my other group usually brought theirs from home. I couldn’t understand it–why wouldn’t they just buy their food here? Then it was made apparent to me by my white ‘friends;’ those were the poor Mexicans. See, we had a bit of an established hierarchy system (mind you we were in 7th grade) of the races. White people at the top, then children of mixed descent, followed by the white acting POC, and then the POC. After you got passed the white acting POC, it became a bit of a blur in that no one really cared–you were just gross/dumb/dirty/poor/ignorant/stupid/mean/cold/and all the rest.

Since my time here at Graceland, I’ve noticed that my tendencies to deny myself have not outgrown themselves. Of the numerous times I’ve been called a beaner or spic on this campus, my reaction is always “No, I’m white” and vice versa. I have been raised to hate the color of my skin; I have been so systemically white washed that I no longer know who I am. I don’t know that I’ve ever really known who I am.

Going back to my hometown, I was raised in an area with mostly white people and so I was raised with those ideals. Although my father was born in Texas and he was raised speaking Spanish, I know just under a lick of the language personally. Growing up, my dad always seemed to shy away from his ethnic past and continually tried to move forward in the white mans world. My mom wanted us to learn Spanish, but my dad wasn’t having it. Part of me thinks assimilation was pushed on him so hard as a child, that he relayed that to my siblings and me. Growing up, fitting in has always been my number one goal; so being of both latino and American decent, I’ve often times had to shun the other to impress the friends I so craved. So much so, that I have openly denounced my Mexican heritage—because passing as a dark Italian is so much less incriminating.

The moral of this story is to show the systemic role America plays in the whitewashing of diverse cultures. They ‘take people in,’ force them to assimilate, and alienate those that don’t. And what’s even more alarming is this in seen in every generation; I first learned what a beaner was in 5th grade. An elementary student should never have to deal with racial issues. Not that early. Looking back at my life, I’m absolutely disgusted by the actions I’ve shown my own culture. On top of that, I regret the time I’ve lost enjoying and being proud of the community my Mexican heritage grants. Never, should a person be able to belittle another’s culture or make one feel vulnerable sharing theirs.

We have the opportunity to move forward from this. Our generation has been one of the most passionate and accepting of social equality practices. The old blood that has run America is beginning to die off, which is the perfect segue to a new and brighter future. If we can shift our mindsets to be more open and widely accepting of others, we can raise a new generation to give the old blood a run for their money.

About Jaime Reyes

I'm a sophomore biology/chemistry major from Kenosha, Wisconsin and I look forward to pursuing a career in pharmaceutical research. I play soccer and enjoy rock climbing. Writing satire, poetry, and short stories are some of my favorites.

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