I am 15 years old and sitting in the principal’s office with my mom. I have just returned to school after my second hospitalization for depression and they are discussing providing a safe place for me to go when I feel overwhelmed. I hate school, my grades are at an all-time low, and college seems to be slipping out of my grasp. My mom is telling the principal that she wants me to continue attending school as much as possible and I am under the care of capable doctors. The principal nods his head and asks if we had considered enrolling in a GED program. Suddenly I am alert and sitting up in my seat, excited about the prospect of finishing my diploma in the safety of my home. My mom is not pleased and lets him know immediately that I will be walking across a stage to get my diploma because she knows I can do it. I am disappointed.
Later, at home, my mom tells me that a GED is a good option for someone in different circumstances, but earning a diploma is a reachable goal and she will not settle for less. She fumes that the principal would not have even thought of suggesting a GED to a different (i.e. white) student. I know she will not change her mind and I am sure I will not be able to make it to graduation.
Two years later, I walk across the stage at the Dallas Convention Center and receive my diploma as a college-bound 18 year old, with my mom beaming in the audience.
I am 23 years old and I have just moved back home after finishing my Masters. My mom is driving and she comes to the neighborhood where she spent part of her childhood in the 1950s. Gentrification is slowly taking over, with high-end gleaming new condos next to modest houses that have stood for decades. She starts reminiscing, pointing out where the corner store used to be, remembering how she was scared to climb the steep stairs that led into her school’s gym, the hill she and her siblings would roll down. Her voice grows soft as she talks about walking to school every day, sometimes in the same dress as the day before.
I ask her if she was allowed to go to the same school as white children and she nods, before saying that just because she and other Hispanics were allowed to go to the same school, that didn’t mean they were seen as equals. Teachers didn’t expect much out of her or her Hispanic peers and so their opportunities were limited. I suddenly understand why my mom fought so hard for me when I was younger, why it was so important for her to see me receive my diploma, why she encouraged me to go to grad school to further my education. She wanted me to have the opportunities she didn’t have.
I am 25 years old and I am already on my journey to convert to Judaism. I am talking to some colleagues about the community scan of the Dallas Jewish community that has just started. I casually mention that I would like to know how many Jews of color are in Dallas. Without missing a beat, one of my colleagues turns to me and, in a dismissive tone, asks if I really think there are Jews that look like me in Dallas. This catches me off-guard and I don’t know how to react. The colleague is white.
Later, I wonder if maybe I took it the wrong way or I was too sensitive. I decide to do some research and read about the Mexican Jewish community. I realize for the first time in my life that the color of my skin really does influence how some people react to me. This is deeply disturbing to me and I suddenly understand why my mom told me outright that I would stand out in the Jewish community and that I should not be surprised if I run into people who have prejudices regarding what a Jew looks like. I shrugged her off at the time, but now I feel ashamed and very alone.