What’s it like being a “wetback”

Mary Rodriguez,
Carmichael, CA.

True question asked of me by my very first crush. I remember this time vividly. I was in science class and across from me was the “love of my life”..it was 6th grade. I was really excited to work with him, and when he looked at his friend then back at me he asked ” Hey, whats it like being a wetback?”. I was stunned and though at first his friend and he had a chuckle, he quickly realized that it was a mistake since the look on my face, and the tears that streamed down were many and as much as I tried to stop them from coming down they didn’t. I had no clue that it was assumed that I was one, I was born in the United States, and by my name Mary..who would have thought of it, I became embarrassed, and when the bell rang I ran to a friend who was puzzled as to why that would be asked. From that moment on, I felt that everyone thought that of me. I never told anyone, but it was my first experience with feeling different and not belonging to any particular culture. Would everyone think this of me? What would happen if the wrong person assumed I was? Would I be hurt? Taken to Mexico where I knew no one or nothing about it? It may seem like a over reaction, but to someone who is 12 years old, forming an identity, it hurt. It was an assumption that I was something I was not, and classified for looking the way I do that the label of “wetback” was placed upon me. To this day I struggle with that, If i speak or display any cultural identifiers, is that what people will assume about me? or where I come from. Needless to say that was my first lesson in race and generalization.

 

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