By Elia Rodriquez
It didn’t look like much. The gallery and surrounding furniture consisted of a brief and narrow hallway leading into a room with four placid, bare, blue-gray walls, the light sifting through the windows to highlight the dirty gray floor and the gigantic roll of brown paper lying on the floor. A small group of two other students and myself was assembled by the art teacher to transform this room into a what it really was – an art gallery, meant to shelter grand displays of beauty, intellect, and human emotions. In other words, we were assigned to cover a section of the art room, and a human being, in brown paper in such a way so that it looked like they were being shipped off to Korea. Well, that sounds like fun, I thought, although I didn’t immediately get where the beauty, intellect, and emotion came in. The oldest student must have felt the same way, because he agreed to do the project immediately; the second student also agreed before turning towards me, motioning towards the door, and saying with a grin on his face, “Well, you can go now.”
I simply respond that I would like to work on the project, and tell him, “You can’t get rid of me that easily.” He becomes very quiet, contemplating my words before saying rather ominously:
“Oh, I can get rid of you very easily.”
“Oh really?” I ask, amused and intrigued as to what his answer could possibly be. Poisoning or an assassin? Bombs or an “accidental” push down three flights of stairs?
“All I’ll have to do is call immigration,” he simply says. And then he breaks out into a huge laugh as I stand there not knowing how to respond to such an unexpected response.
But really, I should’ve expected such a response all along. Brown eyes, brown hair, brown skin – I don’t need a scarlet letter attached to my clothes to let everyone know that I am mostly not of European descent. H for Hispanic, B for Brown, M for Mexican-American, it’s written all over my face. It doesn’t end there. After all, just like there was more than one way to interpret Hester’s letter A, there is more than one way to interpret brown skin, brown hair, and brown eyes, and unfortunately many of them are not very positive.
As the second student already mentioned, it could stand for the letter I – I for illegal, or immigrant, or both. Most likely both. Perhaps it could also be interpreted as E, for extra, or U, for unwanted or unwelcome. To combat these assumptions and negative associations, perhaps I could iron my birth certificate stating that I was born at
Healdsburg Hospital before the maternity ward closed, and staple my parents’ green cards to my backpack for good measure. But skimming a piece of paper would take about ten seconds, while a simple glance confirming brown skin takes less than a second. This method doesn’t even address what I believe to be the basis of most prejudice, and that is fear.
It is doubtful that Hispanics could be considered as a minority in Healdsburg as well as other areas of the United States, just as in San Jose, which has a large Asian population. Speaking with my cousins one day while passing some Chinese stores, I found out that they didn’t really like the strong Asian influence and people because they felt threatened by it – like “they were taking over.” Likewise, the same could be thought of with most other ethnicities, and now especially with the Latinos. However the Latino is also compounded with the stigmas of crime and dishonesty. After all, as an eleven year old girl phrased it, “Who would you trust – a white guy chillin’ and doing drugs or a Mexican guy?”
Judgments based on appearances and first impressions are not necessarily an accurate way to judge a person. Yes, there are Hispanics who are illegal immigrants, or criminals, or both. But one must see past the brown skin, scarlet letters, and dingy gray floors in order to see what may lie unseen by the human eye.