I was born in the coastal city of San Diego, Ca to a young Mexican immigrant couple. My parents, like many of ours, came to America for a better life for themselves and their children. I grew up surrounded by a loving family and a group of people who supported me unconditionally.
But my life’s journey was not as picture perfect as it sounds. Ugly acts of racism and bullying throughout my childhood caused a number of insecurities that I still battle with today. This is my story....
My first experience with racism was in kindergarten. The school I attended was in a predominately white neighborhood, and I was the only Hispanic in the classroom. Many of the children did not want to play with me or even speak to me. I was even neglected by my teacher. On the first day of class I sat next to a cute little boy with blonde curly hair––I remember him vividly. The moment I sat next to him he stood up and left to the other side of the room, scowling at me all the while. I knew it was because I was different from the other students.
I did not expect to experience racism at such a young age, since children are so innocent. But children are influenced by what they see and learn at home, and I believe the children in my school were imitating their parents’ behavior.
Feeling different and left out, I spent a lot of elementary school playing by myself, running around the school’s field hoping that one day someone would notice and accept me, but that day never came. I became shy and quiet, excluding myself before others could reject me. I found comfort in food. It lifted my spirits, but without self-control I quickly gained weight. By the time I entered high school I was the heaviest weight I’ve ever been, and I found myself more depressed than ever.
High school was not much different. I continued to experience racism, but this time it was coming from my own people, a group of rich Mexicans enjoyed making fun of me because my skin was darker than theirs. They would call me Montezuma, who was once a great Aztec emperor, to point out that I looked different than them. At the time, I was only aware of the hatred behind their words, I did not pay much attention of what the words actually meant. Looking back now, I feel only pride in the name that was meant to ridicule me: Montezuma, a once great Aztec emperor and warrior. Now I wear it like a shield.
After high school, I decided I was going to change my life for the better. I began exercising and making healthy choices, and I lost some of the weight I had gained from emotional eating. I finished college and started advancing in my career.
Today I’m teaching English in Shanghai, China, and I’ve never felt more beautiful and happy. I am more aware than ever of the need to embrace the differences we all possess and celebrate our uniquenesses. Had those who teased me and ignored me because of the color of my skin instead accepted and treated me with respect, perhaps I would not struggle with the insecurities and doubts that linger inside of me today. And though I still do battle with these things, I’m constantly being reminded of the beauty in life. I see it in everyone I meet, in every new place I go, and in everything I learn.