Fallen through the cracks: Tam’s lost Latinos’ speak out

The day of Tam’s back to school rally; when my friends and I were walking near Mill Valley Middle School. All of us are Latinos. Jazmin, Jorge, Diego, and Victor are all Mexican; Lily and I are both a mix of Salvadoran and Guatemalan and Samuel is Guatemalan. It was a hot day and we were just happy to be together, because some of us go to different schools. As we crossed the Mill Valley Middle School back parking lot, a faded caramel colored Honda was driving around trying to find the exit. The woman in the car had long dirty blonde hair, and tan skin and was perhaps in her early twenties. She sped up as she approached us and almost ran Lily over. I pulled my friend out the way and Lily yelled, “Watch where you’re going” As the woman drove around the curve she flipped us off and screamed, “Go back to Mexico!!” Her voice was very aggressive and angry, as if we had done something to harm her, even though none of us knew her.

Mill Valley is thought of as a very liberal community, and to some extent it is. However I ask this: if Mill Valley is so liberal and open-minded, then why do Latino stereotypes persist here? Out of ten non-Mexican Latino Tam students that I interviewed, all of them said they have been asked by Marin residents if they were Mexican or if they spoke “Mexican.”

Sophomore Andrea Coronado said, “People shouldn’t assume a Hispanic is automatically a Mexican. It’s offensive. Not all Latinos are Mexican.”

To clarify for those of you who don’t know, Mexican is not a language-Spanish is. While holding a Latino Student Union meeting I asked over 15 Latino students how many of them felt judged negatively because of their race. The room went quiet and every single one of them raised their hands. I asked how many of them believed that Latino culture wasn’t represented at Tam, and again, every single one of them raised their hands.

A student at Tam who will be referred to as Gerardo who wished to have his name withheld, shared an experience he had with another Tam student. He is from El Salvador and came to the United States legally-years ago. One day in P.E. class, Gerardo was running the mile. One of his classmates, who we’ll call Molly, decided to make a joke.

“You run fast because you had to cross the border to get here,” Molly said giggling. Perhaps she believed that her comment would not offended Gerardo’s feelings, however Gerardo was mad and hurt by her attempt at making a joke, and never received an apology.

Non-Latino Tam students and staff seem surprised when I described these incidents, perhaps because Latino students are afraid to speak up and share their stories. When the counselors were asked if any students ever came to them with a racial issue like this Counselor Evelyn Dorsett said “You know to be honest with you stuff that I’ve had I think probably deals more with boyfriend girlfriend issues, not on color.”

Sophomore Samuel Rivera said, “If I ask a question or walk into a classroom, they [students] stare as if they’ve never seen a Latino.”

Tam Latino students reported feeling uncomfortable and afraid to ask questions or participate in class discussions because they don’t want to look stupid.

Senior Liliana Morales said, “When I first started coming to school at Tam my junior year I felt out of place, I didn’t belong here. I never wanted to ask questions because I felt dumb, but I got used to it after a while. I still feel like students expected me to know more than I do while having class discussions.”

During summer school of 2010 a student brought a gun to Redwood, or at least that was the rumor. The school was evacuated but no gun was found that day. The student suspect was believed to be a short girl, with long hair, occasionally wearing her hair up and sometimes letting it loose, that’s the description of half the girls attending summer school. Here’s how the investigation became easier; the girl was a Latina. My friend Jackie was the one being accused of bringing the gun to school. The police told her she fit the description of the female who had the gun.

It was a week after the evacuation and my Jackie, who had been accused of bringing the gun, was sitting in class when a campus supervisor came in. He had been coming in the entire week, whispering to the teacher. She never thought anything of it. One day he came in and told her to come to the office with him, she stood up, and the campus supervisor said, “Take your stuff. ” He picked up her bag and carried it down to the office where she was put in a room with four police officers and Redwood’s assistant principal. Everyone was quiet, and unwelcoming. One police officer took her bag and told her to take a seat. Everyone introduced themselves, and then began explaining why they had called her in. The assistant principal began by asking her if she had heard about the incident with the gun. Jackie answered yes. They asked her where she had been while this was taking place, she told them she didn’t have a first period and she had barely gotten to the school when everyone had already been evacuated from the building.

They told her she fit the description of the girl who brought the gun. None of it made sense. She was not even at Redwood yet so there was no way she could have brought the gun to school. She sat there in shock. Jackie asked “What’s the description of the girl who brought the gun?”

The assistant principal said “Short, brown, long black hair, sometimes she wears it up and sometimes she wears it down, and she’s Hispanic.”

A police woman took the bag outside the room to search it. The police man told my friend to stand up and take her shoes and jacket off, and searched her too. They didn’t find anything on her, and nothing in her purse.

“I don’t think they had any evidence to accuse me of anything. I fit the description but they didn’t even know where I was, and they didn’t take the time to find out where I was before they started pointing fingers at me,” Jackie said.

The police woman explained that it was protocol, and that she wasn’t the only person that was called in. They ended their meeting by asking Jackie for her mother’s number so they could call her and inform her on what had happened. After that the campus supervisor that had walked her in took her back to class. The strange thing about what the police officer said was that no other Hispanic girl was called in. We asked and knew every Latina in summer school, and Jackie was the only one called in.

No one outside of the Tam Latino community seems to have heard about what happened in summer school, or what happened at Mill Valley Middle School, or Gerardo’s story.These stories tend to stay within the Latino community because of fear, and hopelessness.

Freshman Erik Beltran said “There’s no point in fighting racism, because in the end you end up damaged or hurt.”

Fear of deportation is on the rise and few Latinos are willing to speak up, either because they don’t have legal documents or simply think no one will listen. Parents don’t want to get involved, or can’t get involved because of their fear and their level of education. Many of our immigrant parents didn’t have a good education, they didn’t go to college and some didn’t even go to middle school. It’s not because they didn’t want to go to school. Instead they . My mom, for example, has worked almost everyday of her life since she was 7 or 8 years old. That’s the age of a second grader.

I will never forget the end of my fifth grade year, when the entire class went on a field trip to a park. I was running around exploring with some of my classmates, while the parents stayed in the barbecue area talking about their high school and college years. My mom had volunteered to help on that trip, which was a miracle because she never missed work. But while all the other parents were socializing my mom was on her own. She stood there, by herself, not talking to anyone because she didn’t have any school experiences, or many happy childhood moments, and she couldn’t speak English fluently. I said, “Mom go over and talk to them, make friends.” She just looked at me with the expression that a mother gives to her child when she has nothing to say, and replied “No mija, they’re talking about things I don’t understand, about when they were in school. You know I can’t talk about that, I’ve only gone to school for one year.”

Back then I didn’t get what she was talking about. In my mind she was just as smart as any of them. School didn’t matter. Until I came to high school I didn’t understand how she felt, because in high school I learned what it felt like not to understand. In class teachers spoke gibberish. I had no tutors and my parents didn’t have a high priced education, so when I needed help I was kind of on my own. Since I had no one to help me, I became a Latino stereotype. I stopped caring about school I had no dreams. I thought I wasn’t going to make it to senior year.

You might be wondering, why I’m sharing this in a school newspaper. I’m letting as many people as I can know what if feels like not to be able to communicate. My family is not the only Hispanic family that has gone through a moment like this. All of us have.  If our parents can’t even make small talk with an native-born parent, then how are they supposed to approach to the Tam administration and tell them how they feel or become involved in their childrens’ school at all? Latinos need to stop thinking no one will listen, and make the world listen, because we’re here to stay. Even though racism will never truly disappear, at least we can make the world a little better for ourselves.

Written by Carina Albizures. This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.