When I was in Junior High School I had an experience I do not like to dwell upon. I am reminded of that experience today, through the Sotomayor hearings. Some Republicans and Right wing Shock Jocks have attempted to label Judge Sotomayor a reverse racist. In reality, she is not. Instead, she is a strict advocate of the law. Her enemies, for various political reasons, are mischaracterizing her actions.
Additionally, some right wingers seem to suggest racism against minorities does not exist in our country and all things are equal. These right wingers are wrong.
My Junior High School experience helped me learn a very important lesson in life. As many of my long time readers know, I grew up in Michigan. Since my Dad worked in an auto factory, we were one of the very few Latino families that lived in Michigan all year long. Growing up, most of my friends were white. There were very few Latinos or Blacks living in Lansing at the time. In eighth grade, my friend Allie and I walked home from school. We often took short cuts because we lived miles away from school.
When Allie and I walked home, we cut across some railroad tracks. On one particular day, we saw a purse on the tracks. Allie picked it up. She looked inside and saw a wallet. It had the name of a student with our school ID in it. We both decided she would take it to the principal's office the next day so the owner could pick it up.
The next afternoon, just before the end of the school day, I was called into the vice principal's office. She started badgering me with numerous questions. "Did you take it?" "Why did you take it?" I was startled by her attack. I explained that Allie and I found the purse and we both agreed she would bring it into the office. The Vice Principal kept badgering me. Being only 12 years old, I finally started crying. The Vice Principal said my tears proved I was lying and I may as well admit I stole it. I said no. I did not. I asked her to bring Allie in the room. She said No. She was not going to do that to her. She told me to go home and think about it and come back with a confession the next day.
Since it was after the school day ended, I walked home alone, crying the whole way. My mom and dad were waiting for me when I arrived. I was late. They saw me crying. They wanted to know what was wrong.
I explained what happened.
Mom and Dad were both quiet. They both sat beside me and let me cry. I said, "Why would they think that? Why? I have always been a good student. Why would they think that?"
They hugged me. Then Dad said, "This is your first experience with true racism. This is not the last time this will happen. Expect it to happen many more times. In situations like this, some people will just assume you are guilty simply because you are Mexican."
"But why Dad? Why? I am a good girl."
He nodded. "Yes mija. I know you are a good girl. But we Mexicans are always suspect in some people's eyes. We have to know the rules and abide by them. We have to work twice as hard just to be considered equal. You will see others bend the rules or break them, but you can never do so. And the crimes of one Mexican are layed on the shoulders of all of us."
I blinked back my tears and listened to every word he was saying. "But Dad. Is that fair?"
"It doesn't matter if it is fair or not. It is just the way it is."
I started to cry again. "Dad. I don't want to go back to school if that is how it is going to be."
"No mijita. No. You must go back to school. If you do not go back to school you will do exactly what they want you to do. They want you to give up. You cannot do that. You are an American. This is our country too. You were born here. I was born here. My Dad was born here. This is our country just as much as it is their country. We are ALL Americans. You must go back. You must complete your education. You must achieve your dreams."
I stopped crying and I nodded.
He added, "Tomorrow, I want you to go back to your friend and ask her what she told the principal. If she is your friend and she is honest, she will tell you the truth. Then the both of you can go back to the principal and tell the truth."
I nodded. My parents both hugged me.
Though I didn't want to go back the next day, I did as my father suggested. I went back to Allie and asked her what she said to the principal. She told me she went to the Vice Principal, turned in the purse and told her we found it. I told her what the Vice Principal said. It was Allie's turn to become angry. We both went back to the Vice Principal's office. Allie repeated the truth about what happened and asked the Vice Principal why she made accusations against me. The VP became quiet and shrugged. She said "Fine" and guided us to leave her office. Though she looked embarrassed, she never apologized to me, but at least she left me alone.
I thought about my eighth grade experience as I heard Republican Senators rehash over and over again Judge Sotomayor's out of context comments or their misinterpretation of the Ricci case. I admire Judge Sotomayor's civility and poise throughout the hearing and as she proved her diligence to the Constitution and the Rule of Law her entire career. She believed in hard work and Education in order to achieve the American Dream, just like my Dad coached me.