In English class, we’ve talked about Native American communities, and we watched a video of Native Americans giving their opinions about Christopher Columbus. One of the men in the video said all who live on stolen people’s land are accessories to its theft.
I’ve found that because the course revolves around stories of minorities, people of color and the nondominant culture’s perspectives, teacher Jason Hinojosa has had to give us history lessons on U.S. minorities in order for us to have proper context for the literature we read.
So I’ve been thinking about what I’ve taken away from Country Day’s history curriculum — and how it’s possible that after nine years at this college-preparatory school, my English teacher still has to give a history lesson on different minority groups in the U.S. so we actually understand the reading.
I learned in Country Day’s lower school that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. I watched “Pocahontas.” I learned about colonialism by dressing up as a colonist in the fourth-grade wax museum. I learned about California’s Spanish missions. I went to Sutter’s Fort but not to the California Indian Museum on that same square block in midtown. I learned about the Constitution and the three branches of government. I learned in re-enacting the Civil War that guns were supposed to be fun to play with. I learned that fake blood was supposed to be fun to play with. And in music class, I learned to feel pride in being American because the civil rights movement took place here, and I learned about all the ways black people persevered in the ’50s and ’60s.
I learned in Country Day’s middle school about ancient history. I learned about the Greeks and Romans and their incredible feats in architecture, art, math and science. I learned about the Egyptians’ worship of many gods, their mummies and their mystical pyramids, rigged with gory booby traps. I learned about the Aztecs’ barbaric human sacrifices. I learned about the U.S. government stealing and withholding Native American land. I learned about the Constitution and the three branches of government. I learned through an activity — four corners, in which students stand in each corner of the room, labeled “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “agree” and “strongly agree” — that the majority of my class did not share my values. I learned physical isolation based on thoughts, morals and beliefs.
I learned in Country Day’s high school about ancient history. I learned about precolonial Native American peoples. I learned again about ancient Greeks and Romans. I learned about the atrocities committed by Europeans in Africa. I learned that conformational bias was valid, that to look beyond concrete evidence to find the history that ignored humanity’s darker side was valid. I learned that world history does not include that of Latin America. I learned that what we are told by a teacher in the classroom morphs into the truth. I learned that if enough people speak up, change happens. I learned about the Constitution and the three branches of government. I learned that white people contributed to America’s history infinitely more than any other people. I learned about precolonial Native American peoples and their weaknesses. I learned about the U.S. government triumphing over Native Americans and Latin Americans. I learned to revere the white male leaders of this country who’d viewed much of the rest of the world as means to an end. I learned how good it felt to be white. I learned how lonely it felt to cry in a full classroom because I was learning how barbaric and primitive and weak and inhuman my ancestors, my people, my family were. I learned how lonely it felt to cry in a full classroom without anyone noticing. I learned how devastating it felt to lose faith in education.
I did not learn at Country Day that I was welcome because I was not white. I did not learn what pride in my skin tone felt like. I did not learn how to push against the dominant narrative. I did not learn how to appreciate my identity as a person of color. I did not learn how to be prepared for the dangers of having dark skin in America. I did not learn how to navigate the world full of hate outside Country Day’s bubble. I did not learn what it felt like to be seen as equal.
And maybe I shouldn’t learn this at Country Day; maybe I should instead learn this somewhere else. Maybe the history missing from the curriculum when I took those courses has been added in the years since. Maybe it’s right to teach children that some people’s history is more valid than others’. Maybe my sometimes extremely painful experiences at Country Day have prepared me well for what I’ll face when I leave. Maybe nothing can change ever. Maybe I’m insane for hoping some things can.
I remember leaving school in eighth grade one night, bawling. My mother and I sat in our driveway. I told her I didn’t want to go to Country Day for high school if this was how it would be, that I couldn’t put myself through that much pain. But I knew my parents had chosen for me where I would go, and I had absolutely no say in the matter. She told me that my staying at Country Day for high school would allow other students to hear a point of view they may never have heard before. That I should stay because it would help other students. I think she regrets forcing me to stay.
There have been so many before me who have endured the faults of Country Day’s curriculum for its strengths, but I want to be the last to do so. And I feel that if I do not do the most I possibly can to prevent more suffering as a result of our curriculum, I will be an accessory to that suffering.
White America cringes when she speaks spanish and
looks down on her when she doesn’t wear high heels and
sees her as a beaner, a wetback, an alien.
This democracy bars her ideas from bleeding through and
doesn’t try to pronounce her name correctly and
leaves her to dry her own tears or drown in them.
Her society wants to bleach her color
without getting its hands dirty.
This nation craves white skin.
You may not assume there’s a default color of skin.
You may not ignore my people’s history as the textbooks do.
You may not diminish the strength or pride of my people.
You may not avoid delving into the true extent and casualties of America’s failures.
You may not augment my people’s failures.
You may not celebrate White people who committed atrocities against my people.
You may not promote White supremacy in any way.
You may not speak to me condescendingly or grade me differently because of my color.
You may not fail me for speaking my mind or my people’s truth.
I will no longer sit silently in class.
I will no longer accept your lies as the truth.
I will no longer see the White man’s history as more important than my people’s past.
I will no longer doubt myself though you’re teaching what I know can’t be right.
I will no longer adopt White American history as my only history.
I will no longer listen to my classmates disrespect my people.
I will no longer let my predecessors’ struggles be in vain.
I will no longer feel inferior to you because my skin is darker than yours.
I will no longer allow you to rob me of my identity.
—By Gabi Alvarado