Here is an essay that I find most engaging, provocative, and I bet a few of you out there might feel the same way. Valeree touches upon a subject matter that, in the Mexican/Mexican-American community, is a difficult one–what it means to be a “pocho.”
She’s a student at Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles, and wrote this essay as her midterm for the “Literature and Contemporary Issues” class.
Why do you want to move out there? Don’t you want to stay here where we could help you?
I was driving, taking in the last time I would see the lights of my home in Nevada. I remember the heat from my face cooling off because of the tears. I took a glance at the rearview mirror and saw my favorite landmark, the Pyramid of Las Vegas, Nevada, with its bright lights that shoot into the sky like a beacon.
I moved to Los Angeles to attend college. Before coming here, it had never occurred to me that I was Mexican until I was told that I wasn’t. In Los Angeles, everyone looked like me. But, there were so many differences. I made an effort to speak to other students, and ask them about museums, the news, their goals, what’s the best way to get to the beach? We talked; but, there was something uncomfortable about the conversations.
I decided a sorority would be the best way to meet people. As I became immersed in the world of Greek Life, I found myself getting stares. and people walking away after a short time of conversation with me. My sorority sisters said I needed to talk about something the average person would care about, simple, mindless, and easy topics to respond to. I pondered the thought and recalled responding, “So, something about partying or random shit that happens to celebrities or musicians?”
This didn’t go over well.
Some might call me an anomaly in the Latino world. I am Mexican American. But don’t presume you know my beliefs, concerns, or politics. And, being “the anomaly” in Los Angeles has been, to put it mildly, difficult.
Hey pocha, why are you ashamed of your culture?
Pocha. That is an ugly word, used amongst Latinos to cut one of their own down to size. It means a piece of rotting fruit; and a Latina who doesn’t know Spanish or who is, in the eyes of other Latinos, cut off from her culture. In Los Angeles, pochos and pochas are despised.
The San Fernando Valley can be rough if you’re a third-generation Hispanic woman who, for the first time, has immersed herself in Hispanic culture. Working at Burger King taught me Spanish not by choice but because I was threatened, cursed at, judged, and hated. When I would try to speak in Spanish, and people noticed I was not the best at it, they would ask, why I was working there? My hours were cut, and I was losing money because my supervisor said I couldn’t communicate with the people who were coming in.
Once, when I worked the drive-up window, a man in a giant truck pulled up. He, in good English, asked why I didn’t speak Spanish, and that the establishment should have someone to accommodate those who did. I told him politely I didn’t speak Spanish because I didn’t grow up with the language, then I read him his total. For the millionth time, I was asked if I was ashamed. I ignored the question and repeated the price. The man asked me to tell him his total again—in Spanish. I again told him I couldn’t do it but, I would be more than glad to grab another co-worker who did. He said, “I want you to say it.”
I snapped. It was equivalent to a Yellowstone geyser erupting. “I do not speak Spanish because I choose to speak English. This is the United States of America, and I do not have to speak Spanish, just let me speak the language I am comfortable with, and you can speak yours. If not, you’re more than welcome to either let me get someone else or drive away.”
He called me names, cursed, parked in the parking lot to come inside and threaten me, wanted me fired and said I shouldn’t be working at Burger King because I was a racist. I marched to the counter and told him if he wanted to assault me, fine, I would call the police then pointed up at the camera. I told him, “I’m legal. Are you?”
The man backed off and left. I spoke to my manager, and he threatened to cut my hours for not speaking Spanish. I told him, “Do it, and I will report you to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission where my aunt works, and you’ll be fired.” I was bitter, and hateful after that moment. That day I was done with sympathy. I worked there for another year. I had many names before I left. My manager had given me one because I supported the president-elect at the time – Trump’s Hispanic daughter.
* * * * * *
November eighth, 2016. Night. I was in the college’s commuter lounge, waiting for my night class to start, watching the election numbers on the television roll in, and hearing the gasps around me. I was elated, smiling; but dread hung in the air around me. I noticed some stares. Apparently, it wasn’t appropriate to be happy.
The next class, the professor thought it essential to spend time, in a circle, to speak about our feelings. Some said they hated people who voted for Trump. They knew that everyone who did was white. Those who did should feel guilty, that they were responsible for what Trump would do.
Finally, a girl in class raised her hand. She said that, not only were they generalizing—that everyone who thought a certain way must be white—but there were people amongst us who voted for Trump. Instead of the understanding I always hear liberal people preach about, I saw hatred in their eyes. They looked at her like she was a pariah.
I was infuriated. How dare these people try to change other people because they didn’t agree with them? Who are they to have the only views acceptable? Forcing views upon other people in this nation is blasphemy! The expression of thoughts and opinion is a divine right that our U.S. Constitution was founded on. Isolating individuals like myself, who have conservative beliefs, is totalitarian. I know that, despite what I say, people will not care nor think critically about my reasons, or care to hear my journey of coming to California from Nevada to understand my story. In Los Angeles, people will focus on one thing: you voted for Trump. And with that, they dispose of you.
What is my name? That depends on the person you ask. To my parents, Mija. To my boyfriend, Princess. To my sorority, a Sister. To everyone who learns of my political views, deplorable, racist, idiot, hater, narrow-minded. I didn’t think I would have received so many names in my lifetime. Demonizing someone for political views is no different than any other prejudice. As Americans, as people who are part of the human race, we should focus on our commonalities.
I admit that I have harbored grudges for people who mistreated me for no reason other than I think differently than they. Admitting this should show that I, like many other people, am willing to work on it. I am like everyone else. I want a great life and to be successful. I want to find fulfillment in what I choose to do during my short time on this planet. The only difference is that I am living in Southern California as a Conservative Mexican-American Woman. That is who I am. Deal with it.