This is the story of Emma, a Latina woman, and the trials and tribulations she faced when moving from Mexico to, growing up in, and currently residing in Orange County, a predominately white and notoriously conservative county in California.
Full audio file can be found at:
Adapting to Culture Shock
Because the change from Mexico to US was so sudden, Emma had a difficult time adjusting to the language change. While she was told they were going to America to visit her dad’s family, Emma’s parents had other intentions. Emma did not want to disclose the details of the immigration process with me for the sake of privacy but when she got to the United States she resided with her dad’s family. Unfortunately, her cousin’s and uncle were no help to her and her younger siblings, and the kids at school would only push outsiders away, but she did adjust with the help of strangers. In the quote below, Emma puts the adjustment to living in the US into her own words:
Emma: “It was extremely hard to adjust. I did not like it here at all. Hmm, I missed my family. I’ve missed my cousins. I missed my home. I was seven years old when they brought me to this country and it was traumatic, to say the least. We were told that we were just going to come see my dad and then we were going to come, go home and that never happened. And I didn’t like it here. Our experience arriving in the United States wasn’t the best either, being that the family that we were staying with, which was my dad’s brother, were awful to us. They were not the best people to come home to or you would think as family they would help. But, on the contrary, we found help from strangers, more than we did from them. So adjusting was hard, and especially not knowing the language was harder when I started elementary school. I was in second grade and it was awful. I didn’t know what they were saying and getting teased at school because you didn’t speak Spanish- ‘speak English’. I, I still to this day. I’m like, I wish I could go back to know what those kids were saying about me.” Timestamp 1:33-3:07
Emma’s explanation of her troubles with school did remind me of an anecdote we went over in class from The Girl Who Wouldn’t Sing by Kit Yuen Quan. Kit explains a story from when she just moved to America from Hong Kong and she got kicked by the class jock in her new elementary school.
“Had I been able to speak English I might have screamed my head off or called for the teacher, but I just stood there trying to numb out the pain, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. I wasn’t sure it wasn’t all part of the game.” – Kit Yuen Quan
Both Kit and Emma are similar in the way that both of them couldn’t stand up for themselves because of the language barrier.
Positive Influences Growing Up
All though Emma had a difficult time adjusting to the US and her unwelcoming Dad’s side of the family, there was one person that really helped her through it all.
Emma: “My mom Darlene. She’s my godmother, and she definitely did her best to try to show me a great part of the United States of how people could be nice and how much fun it could be and all the places you could go visit and see and she- one of the things I loved about her the most was that she saw just how athletic I was and how much I loved beating boys at every singe sport that we played. So that was one of my favorite parts and, like, for example, my first pair of roller skates I got from her. My first skateboard, which my mom was livid because that wasn’t very ladylike, but I was so good at a lot of things. And she would encourage me a lot.” Timestamp 3:52-5:00
Experiences with Racism in Adulthood
Emma has dealt with a lot of racism since coming from Mexico, and although it has gotten better, the recent election has brought out the worst in people. In our conversation we briefly talked about how, during Trump’s presidency, the racists have come out of hiding and aren’t shy about voicing their racist opinions. Emma explained to me the struggle of always feeling an extra set of eyes on you at the grocery store and how difficult it his to talk about racism to your son:
Emma: “The, the staring at me. People are staring at you. What they’re processing and what they’re thinking. Being at the store and, you know, having a Trump supporter with this hat and pass by and point at his hat as he’s passing me by. It’s very traumatic. One of the reasons like at the start of the pandemic. When I rarely take my eight year old with me, too. Yeah, cuz he there was this one guy over on the corner over on 17th in Irvine, and he was shouting hateful things. The guns and the racists and we need to get him out of it and I had my windows up and music on because he’s in the back. Yeah, focused and listening to everything this guy’s saying … Saying ‘But Mommy. We’re Mexican.’ And yeah. Yes, we are. But it’s a difficult conversation to have with an adult, let alone an eight year old.” Timestamp 11:19-12:35
Emma’s story about standing out in the grocery store reminded be of the audio in class where we heard Glenn Ligon explain the I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against a Sharp White Background painting.
“The text comes from writer Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” Hurston describes leaving the protective black community of her childhood at age thirteen and suddenly confronting the issue of race. The painting’s illegible words embody her confusion, something Ligon builds on.”
Emma, like Zora and Glenn, is more aware of her race when in an area where everyone is white. And especially in the supermarket she feels like she stands out more.
Talking about Sexism
Emma is definitely the type of person who doesn’t wallow in the face of sexism. She grew up with brothers and a mother with traditional beliefs but she consistently fought the traditional female mold that her family tried to put her in. I asked Emma about how she thinks her life might have been different if she were a man.
Emma: If I would- I never think about it. I’ve never thought about how my life would be different as a man, because everything a man can do, I will do better. Yeah, so. There’s never- it’s never crossed my mind… Timestamp 27:13-27:25
Then I asked about it in terms of misogyny.
Emma: For my Hispanic family, baby. I think what would make it easier. There aren’t as many chores, they’re waited on, they’re the ones who get to come home and sit down and watch TV while the women will still come home from work and try to figure out dinner. Check the homework and then, you know, clean up afterwards and that’s the way I think my life would be easier. I wouldn’t have- I wouldn’t have to cook and clean and wash so much. Timestamp 27:42-28:18
Because Emma is Hispanic, it reminded me of a book excerpt we read in class about Latinas and the concept of machismo. The author of Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua, talks about her opinions of machismo in her Chicano culture:
“‘You’re nothing but a woman’ means you are defective. Its opposite is to be un macho. The modern meaning of the word ‘machismo,’ as well as the concept, is actually an Anglo invention. For men like my father, being ‘macho’ meant being strong enough to protect and support my mother and us, yet being able to show love. Today’s macho has doubts about his ability to feed and protect his family. His ‘machismo’ is an adaptation to oppression and poverty and low self-esteem. It is the result of hierarchical male dominance.” – Gloria Anzaldúa
Both Gloria and Emma are similar is the aspect that they both have to deal with machismo culture. Emma has most definitely experienced that concept with her three brothers and she alluded to the concept in our talk about sexism.
Trump out of Office and Hopes for the Future
So because this interview happened just after the election, I wanted to hear Emma’s opinion on Biden’s win and Trump’s loss.
Emma: “This will hopefully give you an understanding of like the first election when he won. When President Trump won the Election, I cried myself to sleep. But- the way that he speaks about the Hispanic community. It does not in any way, shape, or form represent.. just- we’re good people. And the election now. With what’s happening. It’s brought out a side of America that breaks my heart. Yeah, because I guess I’m not ignorant to the fact that, yes, there will be some racist remarks and um. You know things said, but the other day, a friend of mine said this the best- she put it the best way, TRUMP DIDN’T MAKE AMERICA racist. He just made it okay [to be racist].” Timestamp 9:59-11:05
She continued with her opinions of the results.
Emma: “After the elections. Once the, the results were made public. My family and I breathed a sigh of relief. A sigh of relief because he’s no longer, he will no longer be the president but so I feel also bad for Biden, because he’s inheriting a shit show. Yeah, like he has the pandemic, he’s going to have to deal with the economy, all these things that they’re honestly against- he’s- everything that could possibly be pushed against him is being pushed All I can do is hope and pray, is that it’ll just get a little better because I’d be lying to myself if I think that Biden is going to fix everything. Yeah, definitely. In a blink of an eye. But I was very happy with the elections, thank God.” Timestamp 13:13-14:18
A quote that I want to end on is a lesson that Emma was taught from her mother when she younger.
“Always be good to people. Always try to see the good in people and my mom raised us to if literally if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. We were never those kids that would spew hateful things to other kids. We were raised to always see the good in people. And be good to people. That’s what I love the most.”Emma Avalos (Timestamp 20:09-20:42)
- Anzaldua, Gloria E. La Frontera. Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
- Ligon, Glenn. “Glenn Ligon, Untitled (I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against a Sharp White Background), 1990.” Whitney Museum of American Art, 1990, whitney.org/media/720.
- Yuen Quan, Kit. “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Sing .” Tongue-Tied: the Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Education, by Otto Santa Ana, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004, pp. 13–21.