By Alessandra Zamora
The stepfamily. There are countless stories of teens from newly merged families struggling to adjust to a new family structure made up of new siblings, and a new parent. It is a difficult thing to adjust to, and racial tensions can make that new life adjustment even harder to get used to. I have a stepfamily. When I was fifteen years old, my mother died and my father found a girlfriend. She was a kind woman, sweet and funny, and had three children of her own, all younger than I was. It seemed like a good match for me and my siblings, and it made my father happy. As their relationship progressed, my dad’s girlfriend and her children moved into our home and we started beginning our lives together. For the most part, it was a smooth transition, but soon underlying racial tensions began to emerge. My father, siblings and I are all Latina/o. My whole stepfamily is white. My stepmother and her children were definitely not overtly racist, but as privileged white people, they did hold typical deficit thoughts and stereotypes of Latina/os.
These misperceptions made things difficult for me and my siblings. For example, they didn’t understand the pain and anger we felt when people would give my father dirty looks for holding her hand walking down the street, or for holding my little half-brother (who looks completely white) in his arms. They would say things like, “You guys don’t act like most other Mexican people, and that’s why we like you”. It was nearly impossible to not explode at their ignorance. What was a normal day for us in the city of West Valley was “ghetto” to them. Half of the time I wanted to scream at them, tell them that they didn’t know what it was like to be poor, what it was like to be a racially oppressed. They would tell stories about how they struggled to make ends meet, yet they could afford an annual trip to Disneyland and Sea World. Don’t tell me that you struggle when you can go on vacation yearly, and I was lucky to go once every five years! They didn’t know what it was like to be hungry, what it was like to have your parents live paycheck to paycheck, unable to afford you. The only reason I had nice things was because of my grandparents. They lived with their grandparents, and had almost everything provided for them. My stepmother didn’t even have to work.
Things would get even more heated when we would talk about academics. As a child, my elderly aunts babysat me and taught me how to read and write at a young age. By the time I entered kindergarten, I was almost three years ahead of other children my age. I’ve always been very proud of how hard I’ve had to work to get the straight A’s I did. I was forced to get those good grades, but it was also a part of my pride. If I slipped, my father would punish me, usually hitting me, taking away my toys or things, and grounding me. I was hit a lot by el cinto, and I feared my father. I also had to do everything on my own. My mother dropped out of high school when she was sixteen because she was pregnant with my sister, and my father dropped out of college to provide for my mother and siblings. So when I reached about fifth grade, my parents ceased to be able to aid me with my homework. I worked hard to maintain high grades own, and I was very prideful of my hard work. I would be infuriated when my step-siblings would get away with subpar grades, and they had constant help from their mother. She was always there to hold their hand with their schoolwork, even doing their homework for them at times. Yet my father and stepmother claimed my step siblings worked as hard as I did. That made my blood boil. A “B” grade earned a beating for me, but for them, they simply heard, “Oh it’s okay, you’re a bad test taker. You’ll do better next time”. It was a constant never-ending farcity of them preaching equality between us children, yet we knew that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It worsened when we both applied for scholarships during our senior year. My saving grace came in the form of a diversity scholarship: The Utah Opportunity Scholarship, a four-year, full tuition, full fees scholarship with an allotment for books. It is designated for underrepresented and first generation students. Upon receiving the wonderful news that I would be able to attend college with this funding, I cried. I couldn’t believe my diligence paid off. My family and I rejoiced, and my father congratulated me. He told me he was proud of me, yet added, that it was not fair that I received it. Umm—what? That statement hit me like a freight train.
He explained that it wasn’t fair that I could receive a full ride diversity scholarship, unavailable to White students. He argued that my step sister worked just as hard as I did, and it was unfair that she was ineligible for the same scholarship. It was as if he had stabbed me in the heart. It seemed my 3.98 GPA, five Advanced Placement tests, and 60 earned college credits compared to her 3.7 GPA wasn’t proof enough that I deserved that scholarship because of my academic abilities.
Despite the constant complaints about how unfair it was for me to have a diversity scholarship, I knew I deserved it. I found pride and strength in my marginality. I work just as hard in my college courses as I did before, amidst my step family’s narrow minded thinking. Though it has been a struggle to live with a White stepfamily and a father who changed, I still care for them.They are not bad people for what they believe or say, they are simply a product of the system of racism and oppression that we live in. Though I still get angry and frustrated, and I mourn the loss of the once critically aware, color conscious father I once had, I use the knowledge I have from ethnic studies to help me identify what I go through. It helps me to brush it off instead of holding onto it.