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The major character of my essay is a Mexican immigrant, whose name is Laura Tapia. Laura was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, in 1951. She never knew her father and was brought up by a single mother who could not take good care of her and her elder sister because she had to work around the clock to earn their living. Her daughters’ life was far from being a bed of roses either. Both girls helped their mothers by taking part-time jobs and doing housework.
Moreover, they also had an old and sick grandmother to look after, which made it highly challenging for Laura to succeed in school as she had almost no time for studies. The family did not support any connections with other relatives, who lived in other towns. Although the girls knew that their father was alive, they never attempted to get in touch with him and never received any support from him.
When the grandmother passed away, the financial situation of the family became unbearable since they were deprived of one of their sources of income. In the 1950s, the country was trying to survive in the economic crisis. The birth rate was so high that it seemed quite impossible to move people out of abject poverty. Fewer than 20% of young people managed to find a decent job. Laura’s sister was lucky enough to marry an American student immediately upon her graduation from high school.
She moved to America, leaving her mother and sister behind. It was hard for them to cope with the new circumstances. To crown it all, Laura’s mother got a blood infection. Despite their persistent struggle against her disease, she passed away rather quickly. Thus, there was nothing that kept Laura in Mexico any longer and she opted for immigration.
Laura never had a trusting relationship with her elder sister and both felt rather alienated from each other. Nevertheless, the situation did not provide her with numerous options. When her sister came to their mother’s funerals, Laura was forced to ask her for assistance. She wanted to move to the United States and had no other place to go except her sister’s place. The sister agreed rather reluctantly but still bought Laura a ticket and helped her pack her scarce belongings.
For Laura, who had never left her home city before, the journey was rather challenging. Moreover, since she was still underage, they had to settle problems with her documents. However, despite all these hardships, the sisters successfully reached their destination. Under the immigration and nationalization act of 1965, family reinfection was one of the top preferences for citizenship. Therefore, that was the way Laura was able to gain her citizenship in the United States.
America: Dreams vs. Reality
Although Laura was scared to move to a new place and did not want to outstay her welcome at her sister’s house, she was still full of hopes and expectations during their journey. She wanted to finish school and go to the university to become a nurse administrator. She sincerely believed that all her misfortunes had been left behind. Being a diligent and hard-working girl, she was sure that she would never be a burden for her sister’s family and would quickly find a job.
However, the real picture was not that bright and optimistic. For a girl that grew up in Mexico, it was hard to get used to the restlessness of the Eisenhower era. The whole nation was on the move, both literally and figuratively. Many people simply got lost owing to the speed, at which society was transforming, and we’re looking for new ways of managing the increasing stress. There were plenty of those who embraced religion in the lower class, while representatives of the upper class opted for visits to psychiatrists. Neither of these options suited Laura and she had to cope with stress on her own.
Another problem was a sense of conformity that pervaded the society, making young and old blindly follow group norms and reaffirm their traditional roles lost during the war. Men were supposed to be the only breadwinners in their families while women (no matter if they worked or stayed at home) were expected to prioritize their roles of wives and mothers. Repudiation and marginalization of women (especially those coming from different minority groups) was an accepted norm.1 This homogenizing trend created a model of a perfect white middle-income family that met all the expectations of the society. There was no place for people like Laura, with her background and plans for the future, in this idealistic picture.
Once Laura started high school in Tucson, Arizona, she quickly learned the injustice that was circulating not only among the Mexican-Americans at her school but also around the southwest United States. Laura could see with her own eyes how challenging it was for people to live in Tucson, which was a nasty, segregated, and mean community, where racism could be encountered in every sphere of life.
For instance, she saw that her Mexican-American neighbor had to change college when her professor told her that she would never get a job in public administration owing to her origin. Although Laura was lucky enough to live with her sister, she realized that the majority of Mexican families live in barrios. Before 1954 (when the Brown vs. Board of Education case changed segregation policies throughout the country), Arizona had strictly separated white and black schools.2 Segregation was an integral part of people’s lives.
Any attempt of protests among the minority population of the state led to outbursts of political activity on behalf of the white population since white citizens wanted to deprive minority groups of any access to law-making. Since the majority of officials and juries in courts were white, there was next to no chance for Mexicans to protect their rights.
When Laura first attended her school, she realized that the newly accepted integration policy was more formal than real. She was not allowed to eat in the same dining hall with white students or attend the same classes as the schedule was organized in such a way that minority children could never meet white students. Neither could she find any part-time job, even as a waitress or a babysitter. Other teenagers of the same origin encountered similar problems.
Young people who decided to continue their education had limited opportunities since only a restricted number of colleges and university departments accepted minority students. Those who were lucky to be enrolled were not allowed to speak their native language and were constantly subjected to prejudice (leading to unfair distribution of grades) on behalf of their professors. Observing this, Laura realized that she would have to forget about her intention to take a leadership position and would have to opt for pursuing a less ambitious career.
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Coming in Contact with What Blowouts Were
In 1968, when Laura was about to graduate from school and was preparing for her exams, she accidentally learned about the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, or also known as “El Movimiento”, which was gaining momentum in California. This social movement of injustices ignited Mexican political activism. They faced discrimination, unequal working conditions, and other issues since their educational and political rights were questioned.
She also learned much about Sal Castro, who was a public school teacher for forty years in the East Los Angeles School, having many Mexican students. In 1968, he was the first to inspire his students to actively participate in the student movement, the primary goal of which was to protest against racial discrimination of Mexicans in educational institutions of the Southwest.3 The word Chicano was used mostly by white people as a derogatory term for students of Mexican origin. The movement made it a symbol of ethical pride and struggle for respect and equality and protect themselves from discrimination.
Besides walkouts, there were also other activities students performed. Numerous youth organizations were formed across the country, including the Mexican American Youth Association, United Mexican American Students, Mexican American Youth Organization, and many others, attracting social and political activists. Later, they united under the new Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, which launched political campaigns and protests. Since Laura was well aware of the fact that her chances to continue education due to racial and gender issues leave much to be desired, she decided to try her luck and join in on the exertion to equality in education.
Creating Blowouts at Tucson High
When Laura decided to take part in the movement, she discovered, that the Mexican American Student Association existed also in Arizona. Salomon Baldenegro was one of its most prominent leaders who had witnessed the walkouts in California. Although he did not become involved there, his return to Tucson inspired him to perform Sal Castro’s mission. Laura was among the first students who expressed their willingness to follow him. Yet, she was quite surprised to learn that the prevailing majority of teenagers did not have the courage for this struggle. Her classmates did not believe that the situation could be improved. They thought that the biggest ambition they could have was to find a low-paid job to be able to earn their living.
The major bulk of kids who joined the movement had strong barrio roots, which accounted for their dissatisfaction and willingness to organize walkouts. When the movement was taken from university to the Tucson streets and later to Pueblo and Tucson High Schools (because most students studying there were Mexican), Laura’s sister became worried about her safety and prohibited her to go out. Since a lot of parents were guided by the same fear, the walkouts did not have such immense success as they had previously had in Los Angeles. A relatively small number of students agreed to abandon their classrooms and go to the protest rally.
It was a great disappointment for Laura. She knew that she had lost her chance to contribute to a historically significant event. Nevertheless, she understood her sister’s motifs. Participation in the blowouts could have produced a detrimental impact on her future education and career. However, Baldenegro’s activities still managed to leave their legacy. They inspired cultural activism in barrios and made Mexican women more self-assured and active in pursuing their rights and fighting against gender discrimination in education and employment. This was the target at which Laura decided to direct her energy.
The Aftermath of the Blowout
Even though Laura did not have a chance to take an active part in walkouts, being a member of Chicano organizations and preparing for the strike changed her outlook on life. This experience made her self-assured and determined to pursue ambitious career goals, forgetting about humiliating compromises. She understood that the American educational system disregarded her culture, which meant for her that she had to fight for it with any authorities she could reach. She realized that every single fighter made difference. Thus, all minority students regardless of their background should raise their voices. Despite her modest origin and childhood full of hardships, Laura learned to respect and value her roots instead of being ashamed to admit where she came from.
Laura did not manage to continue her education in Tucson. However, she did not abandon her dream, either. Since she knew what a great impact the blowouts had in California, she decided to go there and finally succeeded. After graduating from nursing college, she went to the university to obtain a master’s degree in nursing administration, which allowed her to find a well-paid job in a state hospital. Laura never ceased to struggle against inequality. She was an active member of feminist organizations and launched several campaigns against violence towards women. Moreover, she did her utmost to achieve equal access to healthcare in her facility and to ensure that her patients would never experience such humiliation, to which she was subjected as a young girl.
- Blackwell, Mayeli. Chicana Power: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement.Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. 2011.
- Greer, Colleen. “Barrios & Barriers: The Tucson Civil Rights Era.” AZPM. 2011. Web.
- Garcia, Mario T. Blowout: Sal Castro and the Struggle for Educational Justice. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 2011.