Jícama with chili by Maria Rodriguez

I am the youngest of a family of 9. All my brothers and sister would tell me what to do and where to go. They would tease me telling me, “Whatever you say, it doesn’t matter because you are the baby”. I remember thinking sadly; I guess I will never be able to make a choice by myself, since I will always be the baby. When I was nine years old, we moved from our ranch, secluded from the city) to a small town of approximately 5000 people. Most of the people in the town had dark or light brown skin and most of them black hair, except for my family or my relatives. We have white skin with hair either light or dark brown, red or blonde.
My mom put me in a public school in 4th grade. I recall feeling so excited to be around so many kids (25) because where I used to go there were only 10 kids at the most in each classroom. We used to wear uniform on Mondays to honor the flag, but the rest of the week, we wore regular clothes. Everything was going great, but after a few weeks, 4 taller girls started making fun of my light skin color and my clothes (which my mom made me at home from my aunt’s dresses). I didn’t have any problems when I was wearing the uniform because I wore pants and long sleeves, so my skin was pretty much covered except for my face. The problem was even worse when I wore dresses. What I used to do on my way to school, I got some mud and smeared it on my skin to make it darker. Then, when the teacher noticed it, she would send me to the restroom to wash it off. There weren’t any paper towels to dry myself, if I was lucky there was maybe some newspaper (which we used as toilet paper). I don’t know what was worse, me all muddy or the stains of the newspapers all over my clothes and skin. When I went back to the classroom the kids would laugh at me and during recess. They would call me “milk skin” and pull and rip off my clothes sometimes.
The girls also threatened me not to tell anybody if not they would embarrass me even more in front of everybody during recess. If they saw me getting close to the teacher, one of them would try to get close to me hear what I said. When I got home, my mom would ask me why I was so dirty and why was my clothes ripped. I would respond because I play with mud during recess and I fell a lot. My mom knew how playful I was, so that wasn’t surprising.
This was my everyday life for half year until my mom noticed that I returned clean on Monday’s and dirty the rest of the week. I used to get home and not want to get out of the house. I hated school and I almost never did my homework. During school time, I begged the teacher not let me go to recess but everybody had to go outside. I was the last one to leave the room and the first one to get in. As soon as the teacher closed the door, I would sit right next to the red brick wall and not move because if I did, I knew the kind of embarrassments I was going to get. I remember looking all the kids playing different games, some were playing ball, jumping rope, playing tag or other games. And there I was, feeling so full of fear, with my eyes all watery and wrapping my knees with my hands to appeared unnoticeable. We didn’t have adult surveillance most of the time because the teachers used the recess to get their lesson ready.
My mom perceived my sudden change of personality at home, and my bad grades; she would ask me very often if I was okay but I never told her anything.
The year was about to finished; my mom had the idea that she would change me to a private school for the next school year. I would be able to wear a uniform every day and I would not have to worry about getting teased, or them messing with my clothes. When she told me, I started crying with happiness and gave her a big hug. “I am happy you like my idea my dear”, she said kindly. The days went by so slowly and honestly I just couldn’t wait for the hopeless days to finish.
In the meantime, my mom was making me my new uniform. It was supposed to be in navy blue jumper with white buttons on top, but mine was very original and unique, it had two shades of navy blue and the buttons beige, light blue and one white (because my mom recycled some old buttons). Also we wore white short sleeves under the jumper, but we needed to wear navy blue sweater most of the times. “I have it made. I will wear the sweaters all the time to make sure I don’t show my white freckly arms”. I thought. Just to be safe, I have my skin covered, I asked my mom to make me to make me the skirt to cover up to my shins; with my white stockings to the knee, no skin will show. Deep inside myself I was so fearful of the first day of class.
As my mom walked me to school the first day, she told me, “I am so happy you are wearing uniform and not to mention that the streets and inside the school are paved. So I really hoped you come home clean and with your clothes without any rips”. “Oh, yes mom, I will play more carefully” I answered with goosed bumps.
I really started to like my private school, until the first month ended. A girl named Zena, who was twice my size, dark brown skin, black long hair, bigger than rest of the class, the only one in her family and not to mention she was the richest girl in town. She started calling me “Jícama with Chili” trying to make fun of my freckles (jícama with chili is a Mexican snack that is a vegetable with white flesh and has dried chili spread over it). She also called me “Walking stick” (because I was skinny), and “Red ant” (because I had red hair and I turned very red when I get sentimental). Besides, my grades were so low that she called me “Stupid”.
I asked kindly to stop and told her I was going to report her behavior, but she retorted saying that nobody would listen to me because I was tiny, she was rich and I wasn’t. I felt so powerless. I went home that day and when my mom wasn’t at home, I started crying hopelessly. She returned almost every day to call me names. To make it worse, I was playing volleyball and the ball went towards me, I hit it wrong and it hit her when she was eating her lunch on a bench nearby. No matter how many times I apologized, she never forgave me and found ways to call me names when the teacher was not looking.
One day, I got sick and tired of her calling names. So I started plotting my revenge. “If only I could prove she was calling names, but how? If other of my classmates had heard her they wouldn’t say a thing because most of them were afraid of her and so was I.” I used to think. Then I had another thought, I have to grow the same size as her and face her. At that point, I was eating a lot more to see if I could grow faster and larger, but it didn’t work at all. What I did notice was that my nails were getting longer. Suddenly, I had another idea, “If I could scratch her that way I can show we have a problem if she doesn’t stop”. So I did grow my nails to prepare for the day I could prove that tiny, rich or not she couldn’t make fun of me like that just because I look different from the rest of the people.
One day after school, I snuck behind her, tripped her and pounced on her. When she was on the floor, I jumped on her and made sure I had eye contact with her, so she would know how serious I was. Then I demanded her, “stop calling me names, I really don’t like how you are doing that. I might look “stupid” but I will prove you wrong!” She scratched my arms trying to get me away from her and I scratched her back (just what I wanted). I bet I looked as if a mouse was trying to attack an elephant. As I scrambled to my feet, I felt so much fear that she was going to get me back, I ran home as fast as I could. An hour later, Zena and her mom came to my house. My mom called me over and asked me to give my side of the story. After her mom heard my side, she looked at her daughter with shame. She asked Zena if it was true and she replied between sobs “yes, mom”. My mom and her mom came to an agreement. They told us if we were to ever fight again we would be severally punished. After they left, my mom held my hands, told me I could always count with her and gave me a big hug. My mom didn’t use many words, but what she said was good enough for me.
The next day, my mom walked me to school and talked to the teacher about this problem. The school made it clear of what to expect of us in the future. The school rules were very strict but with bullying issues, the consequences were temporary or permanent expelled. The teacher never told clearly the other students what we did, but our incident had helped to open the discussion about bullying (verbal, physical, emotional, social, and Psychological) inside the school. Since my bullying problem was taken care of, my so called “Stupidity” was solved over time, my self-esteem got better as well as my bad grade problem because I no longer felt bad. Zena never made fun of me and after a while, we became friends.
Not good friends. Just friends.

Written by María Rodríguez