by Maitri Pamo
When I was a child, my family was friends with another immigrant family. We had the same socio-economic status, same “starting point” in terms of opportunity within the dominant culture. We, the daughters, attended public schools in Washington DC and until sixth grade, we were mirror images of each other in terms of our progress towards adulthood. At that point, a fork presented itself, embodied by a teacher who suggested that I escape the local, notorious, underfunded, public “junior high” and apply to a private school outside of the city. I applied and was accepted, scholarship included. I was excited and shared the news with my friend. I encouraged her to apply the next school year. She sneered at the thought. “Yo no quiero ser blanca,” she told me.
This attitude was echoed by her parents who warned mine of what would happen to me in such a school. There were admonitions that I would become “creida,” lose my Latina identity, and get all sorts of false hopes. They were “concerned” about my future. There were concerns, to be sure. I was not prepared or equipped to deal with the cultural isolation of being the only Latina in the “upper school” not to mention the sense of social discomfort at the obvious disparity in economic status between me and my classmates.
Greater still were the obstacles to my relationships with other Latinos who told me that I was “stuck up,” a “traitor,” a “wannabe.” I wanted an education. I was willing to endure the discomfort of feeling socially awkward to gain a place on the path to college. I did not understand how that desire translated into my wanting to become something I was not. What I wanted was to reach the full potential of what I could become.
The self constricting attitude is puzzling and disappointing. Inherently, it states that Latinos have a specified place in society, a role that is defined by class and a perception of our limitations within the larger U.S. culture. For some, a person breaking out of the accepted mold becomes problematic, perhaps due to an unrealized fear that the person will fail and it will reflect on all of us. Perhaps because of a subconscious inferiority complex that forges a “hater” mentality. Whatever the etiology, it is a misguided and self defeating image.
Of course, not all Latinos react this way. There is, in my experience, a clear bias towards this attitude by some among our community who are less educated and not coincidentally, belong to a so called “lower socio-economic class.” It is a myopic mindset that seeks to codify a type of self imposed caste system; a reversed, internalized racism that dictates that any attempt to better oneself must indicate that one is trying to become an emulator of a different race, the “rightful” inheritors of educational and empowering opportunities. I rejected the notion that I needed to be a certain way to have “street cred.” True credibility comes from self empowerment.
Staff writer, Maitri Pamo.
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.