“But you’re not like other Mexicans.”

167653_1818748392191_185574_nTom Vásquez,
Seattle, WA.
I was in high school when this happened.

I’m a son of a Mexican-American, so I’m 50% Mexican blood. 50% French-Canadian and English. When I was in high school, I was struggling to understand what it meant to be Mexican-American. The other Mexican kids in my school … well, the ones I was most aware of … were not the best influences. They drove low riders, they didn’t care about school, they clowned and acted like idiots. One guy in particular stuck in my mind. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be like him. He’s like the worst stereotype of a Mexican, and I don’t want to be like him.”

I don’t even remember the conversation, but I remember who I was talking to. I won’t share his name, but he was a red-faced, blonde-haired kid. Good athlete, did well in school, seemed to be doing okay socially. And we were just talking about the kids in school, I guess, and then he said that.

Matter of fact, what I think he actually said was, “But I get along with you. You’re not like other Mexicans.”

What did that mean? That I didn’t have an accent? That I didn’t wear baggy pants and slicked-back hair? That I worked hard in school? (I’m going to note here that several Mexican-American students in my school were doing well, including several in my own class. But I fixated on the slackers, the bad examples. Those guys were the Mexicans to be wary of. They were the examples of who not to be.)

At the time, I took it as a compliment. It was working! People didn’t think of me as one of “those people.” I wanted to be distinguished for myself – just Tom, not “that Mexican kid Tom.” I saw it as a choice.

Now, almost thirty years later, I still play that conversation over in my head. What should I have said? Should I have told him that all Mexicans don’t act alike? At age 15, I was still learning that lesson myself.

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One Response to "“But you’re not like other Mexicans.”"
  1. Giovanni Morales says:

    Wow. I am doing this assignment for AP English and my six words are almost identical. “You’re not like other Mexicans though”. I have had to deal with this for the past three years of my high school experience. My best friends are white and many of them have told me this at some time. It bothers me that they have a certain stereotype of how all Mexicans are, me being out of the picture.

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