I wonder why people are separated by language, culture and background. In some cities, there will be a higher percentage of one race than another. My neighborhood is mostly Latino. Looking around, I notice that people tend to stay true to their heritage. They display their flags, listen to their culture’s music, eat their culture’s food, celebrate their country’s holidays and most importantly, speak their country’s language. It looks like people tend to stay within their own groups. That’s not always the way it has been for me.
We used to live in Phoenix, Arizona. I moved there at the age of three. I only knew Spanish. My dad and mom would take me to the park, mostly on their days off. On those days, I would play some random games like tag and slide down the slide with the other kids I had just met. But what I heard from both my mom and dad is that the kids that I just met knew only English. Even when we did not know the same language, all of us had a great time, just fooling around with the stuff in the park. The language was not necessary because most of my new friends would only care about having fun and enjoying each other.
What I realize about people is that when we’re young, we don’t really have to talk much. What I see with kids who are ages three to six is that they mostly stay by the TV. From age seven to fourteen, most of us would hang around with friends in park, at each others’ houses, and other places. As we grow older, from 15 to 18, we have to talk a bit more, we have to stay in after-school programs, finishing work that has to be done. As adults, people have to focus more on work, paying the rent, and taking care of their family. As we get older, we have to use more of our language.
If I were put in a room with someone who speaks a different language from me, then it would be a quiet room, because neither of us would be able to talk each other. We would be able to start a conversation through hand signs. The only thing that separates individuals is language. Language can create barriers that prevent us from connecting with others. Language is the thing we need to make connections with other people; we need it to have conversations, to find out what we have in common, and to get to know people.
When we’re kids, language isn’t the thing that is most important. Instead, we just worry about having fun with different people, regardless of what language they speak. When we are younger, it is easier to adapt to the environment that we grow up in. As we grow up, it is harder to adapt. If language were to be cut off, adults would still stick with their own because it is easier to stick with the people you already know If you don’t know someone, you are much less likely to meet them. As adults, people seem to be less open; they only want to stick with people like them. While it may seem like it is easier sticking with people you already know, there is a downside, and that is that you will not have the opportunity to meet new people and experience new things.
Out of all the kids I was playing with in Arizona, I think I would only be friends with one of them today if I met him again. He was my age, and while we spoke different languages, we got along really well. So I think we would still be friends. I got along with the other kids, but I think if I had stayed in Arizona, we would have started to drift apart. We would have started to hang out with other people with the same interests. The people I hang out with now all have a common interest. We all play card games, chess and other board games. While it is good to hang out with people who have the same interests because it is easier to form a friendship, getting to know people who have different interests may be harder because you think you have nothing in common. However, you may find out that you like the same things, and you can expand your interests. An interest I have right now is chess. I am in the chess club in my school. With chess you can interact with other people around the world if they know the rules of the game. I have gotten to know some students that I would have rarely talked to.
It is the same with people from different backgrounds or religions. By hanging out with people who are different from you, you get to see some things you don’t usually see. I sometimes go to Little Tokyo to observe the artwork. My friend and I usually go down to Little Tokyo just to walk around, but my friend had to take a photography class and he needed to take pictures of different pieces of art. He invited me to go with him. I have always been interested in art, but this was the first time I had gone out specifically to look at it. I really enjoyed it because time flew when I was looking at it. The artwork is very different in Little Tokyo than it is here in my neighborhood. The mural right across the street from my school has some pictures of human beings, but they seem like they aren’t finished; one eye is bigger than the other, and the head isn’t complete. While it may look a little strange, it looks like the artist did it on purpose to catch the viewer’s attention. Maybe the artist was trying to say that we have to complete them ourselves. There are lots of murals all over the school, too. They are usually scenes with animals, like the jaguar. Many of the paintings seem as though they have an Aztec influence. The art in Little Tokyo is very different. There is one building that is completely covered with a mural of an underwater scene—it has a woman swimming with an octopus. It is very interesting to see how other people from different cultures make art.
By looking at someone’s artwork, you can see parts of their culture; you can observe the way they depict their traditions, clothing, their forms of dancing, even a culture’s values. For example, a painting showing a bald eagle soaring through the sky represents freedom and American pride. Since people are stuck on the ground, seeing a bird fly and move freely, can make people want the same freedom as the bird. Art allows people to get closer to one another because it helps us learn more about another culture that you may not have another chance to see. At an art expo, there is usually art from all over the world and places you would never get to visit. By going to an art expo, you get a taste of what many other cultures may have in store.
In art there is no talking involved, but there is the painting that everyone can see and judge by the way it looks. At an art expo, you might see that many other people are taking pictures of the same painting that you’re looking at. It seems like something about this painting, or all art, makes people forget about their differences. It doesn’t matter about their culture: they are able to enjoy the painting in front of them. Art allows people to express their thoughts, where they want to go, and what they’re thinking about, without using words. Art allows a person to break through the language barrier that separates them from other people; people from different countries, cultures, and languages can all come together to enjoy the same piece of art. It seems to me that art provides a bridge across the language barrier. It is almost like going back to being a little kid, when language didn’t matter; when all that mattered was having fun with people, friends, and family, regardless of what background you were from, no matter what language you spoke.
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.”