La Raza: My Awakening to Race in Our Society
I was eleven years old when I lost my innocence. I
asked a question that completely reconstructed my
whole perception of the world, from top to bottom.
Having asked that single and simple question, and what
I gained from it, has helped shape who I am today in a
It all came to pass in the springtime, when we would
sweat while waiting for the bus to take us home under
the piping-hot sun.
The whole class was walking through the exposed
hallway on the side of the fourth and fifth grade
classrooms. I remember I was second in line, walking
behind one of my friends, and I was followed by the
rest of my friends and the class. We were going to my
favorite place, the library, and I had a spring in my
As I walked along the hallway and contemplated the
warm sunlight and cool shadows of the columns on the
pavement, I looked over to my teacher and I noticed
something on her T-shirt. She was wearing a baggy,
black T-shirt with white Aztec artwork in the form of
a square, and what I think was the feathered serpent
Quetzalcoatl, in the center. The artwork was lined
with words, dates, and locations. A part of the shirt
read, Día de la Raza. I had no idea what La Raza
meant. I felt like this would be something good to ask
my teacher about, and that it would lead to one of
those smart conversations bright kids have with adults
As soon as the question “What does La Raza mean?” came
out of my mouth, my teacher’s eyes widened. Her and my
friends’ jaws dropped as they came around from behind
me. They cocked their heads to their left, and caused
the class’s pace to slow down. After seeing all of
their faces in shock, I knew I had said something
terribly wrong. This was obviously not going to be one
of those cool television moments where the adult is
pleasantly surprised by a child’s curiosity and
eagerness to expand his or her intellect. I wanted to
take it all back but I couldn’t. I was terribly
embarrassed and all I wanted to do was disappear.
Unfortunately, I did not have that ability and I was
forced to face the consequences that a simple question
for explanation brought me.
One of my friends asked, “You don’t know what La Raza
“No,“ I answered. She laughed and I could feel my face
getting red. She consequently explained La Raza.
“It’s what you are–you’re Mexican, right?” she asked
in a serious but sort of sympathetic tone.
“I was born here,” I replied.
“But your parents are from Mexico, so you’re Mexican.
That’s your Raza,” she fired back.
To that I said, “Oh, okay!” and we all sped up. I did
not fully comprehend this supposed clear and precise
explanation. Our teacher did not say anything. She
just kept walking with wide eyes and a tightly closed
After that shocking and revealing conversation, I no
longer had that spring in my step. Instead, I dragged
my feet to the library but was not happy to go
anymore. I could feel my eyes swell up with tears and
my nostrils flare. I felt like crying partly because I
had just been humiliated, partly because I realized
what a naïve and blind little child I was, and partly
because I realized that after this day, nothing would
ever be the same.
I realized then that the world wasn’t always what they
told you it would be… rainbows and lollipops. The
world was also a cruel, unfair, and challenging place.
The world had both good and evil, and I learned that
some people I would meet would judge me immediately
after seeing me, my color, and my nationality.
That day changed the way I saw the world and our
society. Until that day, I never knew that people
could be categorized as Latino, White, Black, etc.,
and evaluated by what they looked like or where they
came from. The soft ribbon of innocence that tightly
tied my eyes shut was cruelly ripped away, and my
naked eyes squinted and burned in the brightness of
truth. It hurt to realize that what they tell you
about everyone being equal is a big lie. The way I see
it, the society we live in has two faces. The face
that you see that smiles and tells you that you’re
just as good as everyone else, but at the same time,
there’s a face that you don’t see that can be saying
that you don’t stand a chance at succeeding because of
what you look like or who you are.
On that day I promised myself that I would not change,
and that I would not judge people primarily by what
they were on the outside, but by what they were like
on the inside. I would remain uncontaminated by our
society’s ideals of an acceptable person and
stereotypes. I would keep my child’s perspective
of “humans,” and see color, race, and nationality as
something that is not a factor when it comes to
choosing friends or hiring employees.
And so now I am a young woman who is about to leap
into the world of adults where I will most likely
experience everything from disappointment to
discrimination. And until then will I not see Black,
Brown, Mexican or Italian. I will just see Human
Beings–people who love, laugh, cry, hurt, and smile.
There will be no Razas. The funniest thing is that I
still don’t exactly know what La Raza means. I have
some ideas of what it means, but frankly I don’t care
to find out the exact meaning because it doesn’t
matter to me. Also, if you must know, I am still
terribly upset about my favorite day, Library Day,
being ruined by a worldly revelation.