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Somewhere In-Between

My skin is the color of dirt. My hair is a jungle of curly dark twigs. My eyes are murky brown. I speak Spanish as well as I speak English. All of these things have alienated me from my peers.

I grew up in a wealthy neighborhood and have attended small private schools for my entire life. You would think that growing up like me has no downside. Wrong. When you go to an expensive private school, it isn’t the haves and have-nots. It turns into the haves and have-mores. Who has the bigger boat, more expensive shoes, and who’s paid more allowance. If you are different, you will be picked on. And when you’re a brown grain in a bag of white rice, you stick out.

When I was younger, no one really cared about what everyone else looked like. Little kids don’t care about that stuff. But as I got older, things changed. Bullies will be bullies, and I was one of their favorite targets. I was in fourth grade when Harrison Loddman first asked that taunting question.

“What are you?”

“What do you mean what am I?”

“Like, are you black?”

“No.”

“So what are you?”

“My dad is from Mexico, and my mom has French heritage but grew up here. So I’m Mexican-American.”

“Well, you don’t look like it.” He would say, and then make a weird face and walk away. I was asked that question many more times, and every time I gave the same answer, and every time I got the same response. I was an outcast for the eight years I attended River Oaks Baptist School.

My dad was born in Mexico. He immigrated to the United States and got a job at my mother’s restaurant. He eventually worked his way up from bus boy, went to culinary school, and became the head chef. By then my parents had fallen in love, and they married and had me, Elizabeth Ashley Orozco, one year later. I am half Mexican, half French. Yet, I don’t look either. My skin is darker than my father’s- not as dark as an African-American’s may be, but close. When my sixth grade class took a trip to the beach, I didn’t get sun burned like everyone else. And I didn’t have blue eyes or a last name like Smith or Johnson. And I had been ashamed of it. Ashamed my hair wasn’t blond. Ashamed my skin wasn’t as white as paper. Ashamed I wasn’t like everyone else.

The last two years of elementary school were a little bumpy, but things got worse once I entered middle school at River Oaks. Middle school is where you start to find out who you are, and who other people are. A lot of people are self-conscious. A lot of people make themselves feel better by slamming other people down.

When I was in seventh grade I tried out for the lacrosse team. On the first day of tryouts, Julia Geller, a lean, 5’2” girl with straight dirty blond hair came up to me. She asked me why I was trying out.

“Because I’ve played lacrosse for three years and I think it is fun.”

“But you’re not white.” She replied. I told her it didn’t matter. She smiled and walked away. I didn’t come to the second half of tryouts the next day.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my dad took my mom and me down to Mexico to show us where he grew up. We had been there before, and I hated it. The place only reminded me more that I was different from everyone else back home. My dad brought us to the house he grew up in, which my grandparents still lived in. It was small since it only had three bedrooms and one bathroom to hold my father, his parents, and his nine siblings. Then we drove over a couple blocks to visit my father’s childhood friend, Ricardo. Ricardo lived with his wife and two daughters in a house similar to the one my father had grown up in. While the parents reminisced, I talked with their daughters, Isabella, who was sixteen, and Natalia, who was twelve. We chatted about the usual stuff, TV shows we watched, music we listened to, and our favorite foods. Then Natalia asked:

“What’s it like to be rich?”

“Um, what?”

“Well, doesn’t your family own, like, five restaurants? And your clothes are so pretty and expensive looking.” I looked down at my floral H&M dress and my silver sandals I had bought at Target. This outfit probably hadn’t cost more than $50. Yet they looked at me like I was a princess. That’s when I realized how good I had it. I was lucky to grow up with lots of toys, a comfy bed, clothes I liked, a house that wasn’t cramped, and a good school. I was much better off than many people, and I shouldn’t take it for granted.
But I still wasn’t sure how to answer her question.
“I don’t know.” I said. “I’ve lived this way my entire life, so I don’t know anything different.” We talked some more, and then decided to walk down to the beach. We sat in the sand and talked and laughed and had a good time. I left with a new perspective on life.
Having graduated from River Oaks Baptist School, I started ninth grade at Episcopal High School. I made a ton of new friends. I went out for lacrosse and made the JV team (unfortunately, Julia Geller wasn’t so lucky). My Spanish skills also came in really handy when everyone began taking a language class. I was the happiest I had ever been, and I was no longer ashamed of who I was.
I am proud to have Mexican heritage, and I was grateful to have grown up in such a good environment. I am Elizabeth Ashley Orozco. My skin is the color of cinnamon. My hair is a bundle of chocolate shavings. My eyes are coffee-colored. And I am a Mexican-American.





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