Everything I Need to Know About Racism, I Learned at Age 11

It’s hard to believe that in 2017, we still have to live in fear of being bullied or attacked because of the color of our skin or our gender. Watching the news lately, reminds me that everything I need to know about racism, I learned at age 11. 

These are coasters that I had made for family members after my grandfather died. They remind us of his life motto, “Kill them with kindness.”

Twenty-seven years ago, I was 11. Just a little girl who should not have to worry that the color of her skin would make her enemies. I grew up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Westport. I went to a small, Catholic grade school and in our neighborhood everyone knew each other. My grandparents were friends with my classmates grandparents and my parents knew their parents. In my 11-year-old eyes, it was a safe place and a great community to grow up in. The summer before sixth grade, my parents decided to move to Johnson County. I was so excited! I would have my own bedroom, a huge backyard to play in and my parents were excited about the school district. It would offer my brother and I many opportunities. 

I instantly became close with the girl who lived next door. We were inseparable. But that was also the beginning of when I realized that my carmel colored skin was different. I remember one afternoon, I was at my neighbor’s house and her mom and grandma were cleaning the garage. Her grandma looked at me and said, “I bet you have never smelled something so clean! You’re Mexican, your people aren’t clean.” I was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to say or do. That memory is etched on my brain, and I think about it every day

When school started, she pretented not to know me. She and her friends would make fun of me for looking different with my coarse, black, frizzy hair and brown skin. I remember one classmate saying to my face, “We don’t play with Mexicans.” I was sad, depressed and did not want to go to school. I remember begging my parents to please let me go back to my old school.

I made several new friends over the years and heard many more comments about being Latino. “Your dad is Mexican so he must beat your mom. All Mexican’s beat their wives,” my mom’s friend said to me while we were at the pool. In high school, I was accepted into a competitive journalism internship. I remember being so excited to tell my high school journalism teacher. A classmate, who also interviewed for the internship but didn’t get it, shouted at me, “You only got it because you’re Mexican!” 

I’ve heard that there are moments in your life that make you who you are today. Those moments set the course for who you are going to be. I believe these moments did. You see, I could have chosen to be angry, revengeful or spiteful. Instead, I chose to kill them with kindness. That was my grandfather’s motto. Never stoop to the level of your enemy and always rise above. I remember him telling me those wise words at age 11 and that is still my motto today at age 38. 

My grandfather experienced segregation first hand; he attended a Mexican only grade school. He was called a wetback, spic and many other derogatory terms to his face. He didn’t get angry. He walked away. When he saw that same person again, he would smile at them to show them that their hatefulness had no effect on him. He killed his enemies with kindness. 

No man, woman or child should have to live in fear of racism or sexism. I hope there is an 11-year-old, brown-skinned girl who is reading this, and I want her to know that she needs to love herself and who she is.

You are unique. You are beautiful. Yes, you may look different, but that is what makes you an individual. Do not try to conform. Be proud of that beautiful, brown skin. The next time someone catches you off guard, do not let them see you get angry. Just walk away.  When you see them again, hold your head up high, do not be afraid and just smile.

Always kill them with kindness.

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