“Let’s sleep by the shark tank again!” At that, twelve girls, including myself, ran through the Maritime Center hallways, while Maria led the way. Once again, we were at the annual Girl Scout sleepover. Maria was a leader’s daughter, as was I, but our similarities were limited to just that. For the most part, our differences revolved around the fact that somehow, early on in her nine years of life, Maria had discovered how to make people do exactly what she wanted, and she did. Nevertheless my innate dislike of her brought me certain independence, unfamiliar to her followers. Numerous times I had seen her hurt my own friend’s feelings, yet for the majority of them, holding a grudge against her was never an option and it was for this reason that I learned to tolerate Maria.
That night as we sat together making crafts for our parents I was glad that everything was going so smoothly; nobody had gotten into arguments (a definite feat for a group of adolescent girls), and tolerating Maria hadn’t thus far become a problem. That is…until she said it. Somehow, the topics of boys and clothes had shifted as many of my fellow girl scouts were now exchanging racist jokes. “Those dirty Mexicans should just pack up and go right back where they came from.” Maria said at last with a snicker. The entire conversation had been offensive. I personally was from a series of backgrounds and had never found the humor in prejudice stereotypes. But it was this statement, in particular, that hurt the most. In my naïve mind, prejudice was a thing of the past, something I read about in books. Never in my life, had I heard anyone say something like she had. “I’m Mexican!” I wanted to yell at her, as a tear rolled down my cheek. I was hurt, angry, but most of all, amazed beyond belief. I could not understand how anyone could’ve belittled me, my father, and his hardships as an immigrant in just a few words. He had always taught me to be proud about my diverse background; nevertheless, at the influenced age of nine, I could not help, but feel ashamed.
Fortunately that soon changed with maturity; it was as if tinted lenses had been lifted from my eyes, people were still racist and they'd probably always be. I decided that I would never become one of them, I would embrace every culture, and in doing so, hopefully help others to do the same. In some ways, I feel blessed that I was able to choose to have an open mind at such a young age. In the future, I look forward to meeting various individuals whom are extremely talented, even more so because of their diversity. I know that these are certainly the kinds of people who deserve the opportunities that this country has to offer. Furthermore, being involved in clubs in my high school, such as the Valhalla International Fund, has opened my eyes to a greater multitude of cultures. I am lucky enough to have had private conversations with exchange students from all over the world, which has further proved to me how radically untrue racial stereotypes really are, or any other kind for that matter.
Looking back, I wish I would have stood up to Maria that day. I should not, cannot merely be described by my ethnic background because there is so much more to me as a person. Like many victims of racism, each encounter with other “Marias” has only made me stronger. And at this point, I can now clearly see not only my faults but my strengths that set me apart from numerous people my age. I know that similar to my father’s struggles in the past, I too, as a first generation Mexican-American, am capable of achieving the so-called impossible. At the ripe age of nine, I set out to change the world. However looking back on the years since then, it’s clear that in return, it is the world that has had the greater impact in changing me, and certainly for the better.