Last November, my friends and I decided to go to Beverly Hills just to have fun. There were ten of us, all Mexican except for one non-hispanic white girl. She was my friend’s friend. I didn’t know her, but from the beginning I felt like she wasn’t really fitting in with our group. I felt like the whole time she was looking at us with an annoyed face, and it made me feel weird.
Everything was going so perfectly, but then we stopped by Porto’s to buy a cake, and this friend’s friend stared at us because all of us were speaking Spanish, as we usually did. We looked at her, but kept on speaking in Spanish. She looked at us and told us not to speak Spanish because we were in America, and we were supposed to be speaking English only. One of my friends got so mad at her and told her that this was a free country and everyone could speak any language they chose to speak.
When she looked at us, she called us “freaking Mexicanitos,” and I felt so bad because I always thought that this was a free country and everyone had the freedom to speak any language. All she wanted to do is make us mad so we would get in a fight with her. I told one of my friends not to give into her provocation because we were going to be fighting a girl who was discriminating against us just because of our race. I felt that she thought she was superior because of where we were and she thought we didn’t speak English at all. I also felt emotions going back and forth because I’ve never imagined someone from this country discriminating against someone who is speaking a language other than English. At that moment I felt inferior, but then I thought that we had the right to speak any language. I felt really mad and disappointed at that moment because that girl was treating us like we weren’t equals and like we didn’t have the right to speak our own language.
This experience made me realize that we all are the same and we have the same rights, whether we’re Mexican or Caucasian. It also made me think that although I wanted to fight this girl, I didn’t. Partly because my friends stopped me, but also because I didn’t really want her to suffer. I also didn’t want to get into too much trouble, although I didn’t really care if I got in trouble with the police officers.
We have the right to speak any language because this country offers that freedom. That freedom has sometimes been taken from people, such as in the Mendez case. Back then, white people used to not really like Mexicans or anyone with dark skin because they thought their community would look messy, or like an old “barrio.” They were segregated from the rest of the community even though they wanted to be part of it.
I’ve seen this experience played out the other way around, with my niece in Mexico. She’s of Mexican descent, but she’s been in the U.S. for the last 13 years. When we were in Mexico, people assumed she knew Spanish and walked up to her and spoke Spanish. When this happened, thoughts ran through my mind like these people don’t know what they’re doing. I had to translate for her the whole time. People shouldn’t judge other people based on their language or their nationality because they may only speak one language.
We all should know that everyone has rights, and nowadays, what I’ve observed is that white Americans don’t really discriminate against other people like Mexicans, Asians, or Central Americans. Now, everyone interacts with each other more, whether they’re Mexican, white, or Asian. This experience made me reflect on the fact that I have moral responsibilities with other people, like giving respect to receive respect. Also, we have the right to express ourselves and say what we like or what we don’t like. I would like people to just treat each other with respect and try to help others out by including them in society. If they wouldn’t discriminate, this country could be transformed into a brand new country where Americans interact and treat each other with respect, so everyone will be treated the same way.
This incident at Porto’s made me reflect on the “Mendez v. Westminster” case, and how they went through discrimination and they didn’t really receive any kind of respect from white or rich people. They tried so hard to fit into a society or circle of people where they didn’t belong. They fought against discrimination. They resisted violence, and set an example of how you can achieve justice without violence. In my case, I felt like fighting this girl, but then I thought of my friend—I would only get her and me in trouble and it wouldn’t change anything, except maybe me going to jail.
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.”