This is part 3 of the series “Immigrant: Expectations vs. Reality”.
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Last time, you learned a little about how I got my name, and what life was like when we landed. Now we get into the real part of the immigrant experience. This is what it was like growing up in Utah.
BACK TO SCHOOL
The big day arrived. It was time for school.
I attended Edgemont Elementary in Sandy, UT up until 5th grade. Everything started off great. I now went by “Dave” and I had a whole set of nice new clothes (some sweater vests and button-down shirts), and I was feeling so confident. I was an immigrant ready to take over the America!
Over the first few weeks, I generally kept to myself. As an only child, I was always great at working independently, and although I was confident in myself, I was still a touch shy to make friends in school.
There were a lot of boys coming into school with Boy Scouts uniforms. I remember asking one of them about it, and he said it was something you can only do if you are a “member.” I didn’t think anything of it, because I never really understood what that meant.
I remember telling my Dad about this story that same night (you’ll later come to find out that he’s the greatest Dad in the world), he immediately went to one of his “American” friends and asked how I could get involved in the scouts program.
His friend told him that the Boy Scouts was a church-sponsored activity, and something that Church members encouraged amongst their youths. He didn’t say that we weren’t welcome. It was just implied.
Before we go on, let’s clarify one thing. “The Church” we are talking about is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You know it as the “Mormon Church”. While we are at it, “members” meant members of the Church.
Over the years, the Scout program went through a lot of changes and had a lot of controversies. Even though I felt excluded from the other kids, maybe it was best that I wasn’t a part of the program.
Being left out of the Boy Scouts was one thing. Being the butt of racial jokes…well, that was another.
In 2nd grade, I was assigned to be part of a group project. And the other kids in my group started talking about some after-school activity. Once again in my polite little British accent, I asked, “Can I play, too?”
I was promptly shut down with, “NO! You’re not a member. This is for MEMBERS ONLY. And you have dirty skin. Why don’t you take baths every day like us? You look like you have poop on you!”
My first instinct wasn’t to get defensive. It was to think about whether or not I showered every day. My psyche was broken. Immediately, I became self-conscious. I’m talking nanoseconds.
Also…again with the memberships?!
Glancing down at my arms, I saw the brown on my forearms and face. I ran to the bathroom (thankfully I was alone in there) to use soap and water. I couldn’t do anything about the incredible brown tan that I earned over the past summer while riding bikes with the neighbor’s kids. When nothing changed, I chose a stall for extra privacy and started crying.
I’m not talking about the kind of crying where you fell and skinned your knee. I’m talking about a whole new level of “ugly crying”, where I rubbed my eyes with clenched up fists into tiny half circles like a 2-year-old. Full snot from the nose. Salty tears. Completely inconsolable.
Emotionally, I was gutted. Physically, I felt like someone had ripped my heart out, and then punched me in the face several times.
To make matters worse, I felt bad about crying. I had never cried in school before. This was always a fun, safe place for me. It was this moment where I realized that school was never going to be safe, ever again.
I could hear some of the kids outside the bathroom laughing at “that kid that’s crying in the bathroom.”
I’ll never forget how this played out.
An adult walked into the bathroom. I didn’t know who it was, but it sounded like someone who was much taller with loud shoes. I heard a knock on the stall I was in.
It was Mrs. Yawn, the teacher that was in charge of that group project.
With a her warm and caring voice, she asked, “What are you doing in the girl’s bathroom?”
WHAT!? The girl’s bathroom!? Could this day get any worse?
I was now the crying brown boy, in the girl’s bathroom.
Mrs. Yawn was really kind and tried her best to not let me feel any worse than I already did. When she heard my crying, she thought I hurt myself, but I told her, “Those children said I was dirty and I have poop on me.”
She IMMEDIATELY brought “those children” over to confront me in the classroom, and asked them what they said to me. They admitted their international human rights violation, and then she took me into another room while I continued to calm down.
My actual teacher was nowhere to be found, nor did he deal with this situation.
It was Mrs. Yawn who called my parents and told them what happened and explicitly said it was important to her that I feel accepted, included, and welcome.
She had a great idea on how to make this happen in next week’s class.
If you made it this far, THANK YOU for reading! This was part three in my Immigrant series. If you’d like a refresher, please re-visit my other stories.
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Are you an immigrant too? Or has my story helped you better understand what it’s like to move to the United States? Drop me a line!