I Was Born In Manhattan, But I've Been Treated Like An Illegal Immigrant For Years
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Politics and Activism

I Was Born In Manhattan, But I've Been Treated Like An Illegal Immigrant For Years

My first experience with racism.

I Was Born In Manhattan, But I've Been Treated Like An Illegal Immigrant For Years

When I was in second grade, I experienced racism for the first time.

We were on the bus ride to Heron Park Apartments. The complex was about 85 percent African-American and Hispanic families, the other 15 percent was Caucasian. I didn't think anything different of Caucasian people. Sure, they're not the same color as me, but I never believed them to be superior or inferior to me.

There was a large fifth-grade Caucasian boy that sat behind me every day. I was singing a Peruvian folk song quietly, not bothering anyone. I didn't think I was bothering anyone because no one told me to stop. That is until the boy behind me loudly told me to "shut up."

I turned around and stared at him in confusion. "I'm sorry. Did you tell me to shut up?" I asked him, but he got angry out of nowhere. "I don't need to hear your Mexican fiesta music." He exaggerated.

"I'm not Mexican. I'm Peruvian-American." I corrected him, not being rude. "I don't care what you are, just go back where you came from!" He shouted at me and by now, his face was red. "I was born in America," I said and shook my head. "If that's true, you'd be white."

The argument got more and more heated, my mind swirling with his insults. I kept getting frustrated because I didn't know how to physically prove this boy wrong. "You're so mean. I didn't do anything to you." I said and before I knew it, his fist made contact with my face.

I didn't know how to react but by that time, we made it to Heron Park where my mother was waiting for me to arrive. I ran to her crying and explained the situation in my rushed Spanish. My mother couldn't believe what had happened and took me to follow the boy and his mother to their apartment.

When we reached the door, I was so nervous, my heart was pounding and I didn't know what to do. I was frozen. The boy's mother answered the door, glaring at my mother and myself. "Can I help you?" She asked with a distinct attitude that was similar to her son's.

"Um, your son punched me in the face on the bus." My mother looked at me, then at the woman. "Why you son hit my daughter." My mom spoke in her broken English, putting her hands on her hips. "I will call police."

I stared at my mother and felt a sense of pride. "My son did what?" The woman asked, but she turned away, looking at the boy in the apartment. "Get over here." She demanded. "Apologize."

The boy apologized reluctantly and my mom took me by the hand. "Don't let happen again." She said before taking me down the stairs and across the street to our apartment. "Nunca dejes que un Americano racista te trate mal. Me escuchaste?"

"Never let a racist American treat you like garbage. Did you hear me?"

I do hear you.

Ever since that moment, I realized that there will be people that will verbally abuse me for the color of my skin, but it's up to me to stand up against it, to put an end to it.

I don't think there's a right way to cope with racism, especially since I'm not racist.

I don't hate people for the color of their skin or where they were born.

I believe there's more to a person than that.

Living in Florida in 2018, right in the middle of President Trump's first term, I'm nervous about the future. Will it get worse, will it get better? Only time will tell. I am Latin, but I am also an American. People are meant to be treated with respect, no matter where they're from and no matter the color of their skin. I hope people see past races and accept others for who they are, not what they look like.

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