"What is this about?" I asked.
In another class, the girls were filling out information for high school, and like most forms, they did not see a category for themselves. The teacher told them to check White, yet they were not comfortable selecting White; they do not identify as such.
So rather than provide misinformation, we ventured to my first place for research: Google.
I have admit that this result added more to our confusion. Our eighth-grade history classes have been teaching lessons on not labeling others, and here the girls were being forced to select labels for themselves in another class, and labels with which they generally do not apply to themselves.
The Hispanic population of my campus ranks number two. They are not included as part of the White population in our demographic studies. Yet in this case, they were. How many other students who identify as Hispanic and not as White are being subjected to labels with which they do not identify? Having grown up in an environment in which we were all white by skin color but identified by our ethnicity, I understood their dilemma: It was not until I moved to Texas and began teaching that I was seen as the "white lady" rather than the "Italian girl."
I am currently reading Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students by Gregory Michie for my graduate diversity class. In Chapter 5 "Look at Your Hands," Michie discusses how his Hispanic students also struggled with identity. The students who were new to American and spoke no English were referred to as being "too Mexican." Students of Mexican heritage who spoke English would avoid those who only spoke Spanish. Many showed little knowledge of or interest in knowing about Mexico.
"The kids confusion about their ethnic identities seemed to stem, at least in part, from a clash of cultures they experienced between life at home and life at school" (80). Michie notes how, at least in 1999, when the first edition of his book was published, pop culture, history books, and school environments did not reflect the history of the students he was teaching. Almost twenty years later, I believe that has changed (or maybe it is because I live in Texas closer to Mexico than Michie's environment of Chicago). We still have issues with textbooks (this year we had a textbook rejected due to racist idealogy against Mexican-Americans), and I cannot say my campus reflects the ethnicity of any student population on my campus. It is not uncommon, however, for my Hispanic students to be listening to Tejano music on their phones when given the opportunity or for salsa dancing to take place at a school event. And in my AVID class, we talk a great deal about cultural awareness and identity.
None of this reflection even address my Vietnamese or African or Middle Eastern students, and my campus has numerous students from each background. Many of my students moved to America at a young age or are the first generation born in America. All of these students are middle schoolers who are in the process of discovering and developing their identities, resolving issues of being Hispanic/Vietnamese/African/Middle Eastern and American, and at the same time, we are asking them to check boxes with limited choices that may not fit their personal definitions of self.
On the pleasure side of my reading, I recently ran across a passage in What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau that has provided me with some guidance on how to address the topic of check boxes with my students:
Especially in today's political climate, I certainly have no answers to my own questions about how to answer why a Hispanic student must check a box that says White, but I can guide deeper conversation about exploring who we all are on the inside, who we think we are and who we see within. And that, in my always most humble of opinions, is the most important side of all.