“Mendez v. Westminster” was about Latinos forbidden to enter a white school. They weren’t allowed to go to their schools because they were different, and the whites didn’t like the way Latinos looked. When I first heard about it, it reminded me so much of a time when no one wanted to be my friend. It happened a bunch of times, whenever I tried to talk to somebody, they would always give me that angry attitude. They would walk away or ignore me whenever I approached them—that really put me down. Most everyone did that to me, maybe because they didn’t like the way I talked, or the way I looked, or the way I acted. No one bothered to say “hi” to me; they would just keep walking like they saw nothing. I don’t know what was in their minds, why they would do that to me. I did nothing wrong. I just wanted a friend, that’s all.
Time passed, and it was still going on. People were ignoring me, mean to me, and walking away from me. One day, a person came up to me and asked if I wanted to sit with her and her friends. I said yes, because I had nothing else to do. Her name was Ana, and she and her friends were really cool. She looked kind of mean, but she treated me with respect, and I respected her too. I sat with them during lunch and break time, and I guess they felt bad that I was alone. Some people don’t like when others are left out. I was happy that she invited me to hang out with them, since no one else ever did that. My friend Ana is really amazing to talk to, and we would talk about the times we had outside of school. She’s really funny in a way. Her other friends Graciela and Odalys were really nice too. They are funny and so kind as well. Today, I’m still hanging out with them. They don’t care about how I look or how I act. They like me they way I am, and that makes me feel very special because no one else ever made me feel that way. They are my true best friends, and they always will be. Everyone is different. I’m different, my friends are different, and I like it that way. It’s not bad to be different because we can still do anything that others do, such as being talented, being good at sports, having a great career, and experiencing what’s around us.
There was so much sadness back during my freshman year at school, and that did not feel good at all. The bullying was so terrible. I was defenseless, and I was scared to defend myself. People would tease me for no reason during first period, maybe because of the way I acted during class, always shaking. I can’t control my leg shaking all the time, but those people shouldn’t have made fun of me. They would question me about my way of acting a little weird, trying to make their friends laugh. In a funny way, they would say, “Why you act like that? Look, I do that too! Look, I’m you! Ha ha!” I felt offended because I knew they were trying to make fun of me. I would try to ignore them, or take it as a joke, but it hurt me. It makes me so sad that I couldn’t do anything about it. It’s hard to ignore all this teasing that happens during class. And no one did anything about it because they were too “busy” doing other things. The teacher didn’t even notice because he was helping other students with their work and didn’t hear me. They just kept laughing at me for the things I did, and I just sat there getting teased while feeling very sad.
After all that happened, one person stood up for me, and told them to stop teasing me. She told them, “Hey stop it! Why are you doing that? Don’t do that. He has never done anything to you people.” She also told them that they are weird, too. The two of them didn’t say anything, they just stood there, and then walked away. They didn’t tease me anymore. They looked like they regretted it, but they deserved that. They should’ve never teased me in the first place. I was surprised at what she did for me; it’s been a while since someone has done that. I was happy, and felt a little better because of that, but I knew it was just a beginning because who knows what will happen in the future.
The girl’s name was Alondra. She is the daughter of my dad’s friend, and she is really nice. She was older than me, a junior at that time. She respects me and we get along fine. What she did for me after those people teased me is why I say she’s always been nice to me. We would talk about our classes and other people that we used to know, but we don’t talk much because sometimes there’s nothing to talk about. When I became a sophomore, Alondra moved to another school. I guess our school wasn’t good enough for her, but I’ll never forget the time she stood up for me to those bullies. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.
Not everyone understands others because of the way they speak or act. Just because they may be black, or brown, or Chinese, doesn’t mean they are always going to have that type of culture. Lots of us were born different, not the same. We all act differently, not the same, and we are all going to stay that way. We can’t ask people to change themselves if they were like that in the beginning. It’s not our fault we were born that way. Those people who can’t accept others for who they are, are the only ones who have to change—change their attitude into something good, and accept people for who they are.
That is what I have to say for the meanest people around us: they need a change of heart. The Mendez family stood up for Latinos, for their right to enter the white schools, allowing their children to learn. Just like that girl who stood up for me when I was in trouble. And also the ones that looked at me and proved that they felt bad for me, they have now become my true friends.
Everyone must stand up for what’s right, and no man should be left out. Accept others for who they are.
This essay originally appeared in the 2015 book “We Are Alive When We Speak for Justice.” In a semester-long project, the non-profit organization 826LA worked with Mendez High School students to explore the landmark “Mendez v. Westminster” case, which led to the desegregation of California schools and was a precursor to “Brown v. Board of Education.”