by Cindy Tovar
I was completely unaware that I was Latina until the first grade. It was lunch time, and some of my classmates carried brown paper bags with them to the cafeteria, while others got in line for the free lunch. I carried my little tan thermos.
I watched my friend take a bite of her sandwich. I couldn’t help noticing the sticky, gooey substance in her mouth as she chewed with her mouth open.
“What are you eating?” I asked.
“Peanut butter and jelly,” she answered.
I’d never heard of it. “Can I try?”
She let me take a bite…and instantly there was a party in my mouth. This heavenly mixture was delicious!
I sighed as I opened my thermos and dug in with my plastic spoon.
“What’s that?” my friend asked.
“Oh. Umm…” I stalled, thinking hard. “It’s…ah-rose.” Somehow, I knew not to roll the r’s.
It was rice and beans. But I’d never heard it called anything except arroz con frijoles, and I wasn’t about to try to say that mouthful of a phrase.
It was at that moment that I realized two things:
1) I needed to have a serious talk with my mom about adding PB & J to my diet.
2) I was different, but I didn’t know how or why.
As my journey through school continued, I noticed other things: My parents couldn’t help me with my homework the way other parents could. Also, I always had to translate for them, and as a shy girl, this was the worst thing you could ask me to do.
It affected me socially, too. I couldn’t do a lot of things my friends could: Sleepovers were usually a lost battle. Going to the movies or a dance unchaperoned? Out of the question. Walking to school by myself didn’t happen until mid-freshman year of high school (feel free to put that big L on my forehead).
There were definitely disadvantages to growing up Latino in America, the most serious being the fact that my parents couldn’t help me. I was pretty much on my own when it came to my education. Either I paid attention in class so I knew how to do my homework, or I’d fail.
I still remember the afternoon when my parents and I racked our brains, stumped by a picture of what looked to us like a bed, but the fill-in-the-blanks puzzle underneath it read ‘_ _ t’. The next day I learned that the word was “cot”. How was I supposed to know what a cot was? I’d never seen one, heard of one, or slept on one. But it was something I was expected to know.
This is why Latino kids are at a disadvantage. Sometimes our environments aren’t conducive to learning. And even when they are, as hard as our parents may try, there will still be deficits in our knowledge and range of experiences, some of which, much like that word puzzle, I’m still trying to fill in.
To learn more about Cindy, visit Dagnys Dichotomy.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.