My ABC’s as a Brown Kid in America

Derrick Cruz, Senior Staff Writer

While every teenager looks forward to becoming independent, they do so conventionally. In most teenagers’ minds, the solution to their 6 a.m. musings on independence arguably becomes getting a job. I will begin by saying that I too became in love with this solution, but after almost nine months working in retail, I fell flatly out of that love spell. I blame people. 

Almost any Latino parent will tell you to go to work, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not, before you hit puberty. My mother was not like this. In 2011, my mother became a single parent and I became a fatherless brown kid. Thus, the financial burden that has followed us in America had to be remedied somehow. I was, at 17 and weighing a meager 140 pounds, the perfect cashier for the American multinational retail corporation Walmart. It is safe to say that I became the solution.

The day I walked into that immense world, where white couples pointed out each other’s idiosyncrasies and a college student blatantly told me to wish him luck on his current pregnancy scare, I began to realize why my brownness is essential to white culture. Somehow, I am expected to know about having children at a young age and many other things too. If I say I am 17 to the couple who has asked me if I have kids they will respond nonchalantly “well, does it even matter?” To them, I am the meaning of what not to be. So how do I go about claiming my independence from these expectations?

Every good villain vs. hero situation has a great boss that you have to beat at the end. Think Bowser from Nintendo’s Mario Franchise for a virtual example. In the real world, our villains become less of this model and more real as is implied by the “real” world. I know this because of one particular Christmas morning where both of my parents woke me up and led me to the only present on their bed. That morning, aware of the state of my parent’s marriage and the plausible fact that Santa may or may not exist, I accepted my first Nintendo console. I looked at them strangely, not knowing whose lap I would take next or who I would even thank that day. I knew what came after it all and it was always about money, even in the absence of it. It was like sitting on needles, and maybe there were some stuck into the sheets as my grandmother used to come to this bed often. Either way, every pinch was more reality being added.

I will explain the absence of money in my family in the simple fact that we do not have a lot of it. When I did end up making my own money, it was through the list of sparse items that my grandmother made, and some odd number of calls during my breaks from my mother, and that carried me on into the security that comes with money. I bought the things, and I could slice off a part of the infinite debt my mother reminds me of every time we argue. This was not a feeling that could last forever though. There is always some change for you.

I have always enjoyed my alone time, as a person who does not get much quiet except for in the comfort of their own room. I do not like noise or even the idea of it. So here is where the problem was: As a teenager, my biggest villain was the eight-hour work shifts that prevented me from actually doing something that I enjoyed. My villain, as a brown teenager, is wondering, “How much of a chance do I actually have to say no to these shifts before I am terminated?” I would never say no either way. There was always something to pull me back in whether it was 75 cents more added to my original salary or my mother reminding me of the paycheck that came for us to indulge in a pizza after midnight on a Friday night, or to go out looking for home decor or skincare products. It came for us in that way.

We must all go through this notion of not doing nearly enough. It was the main reason why I wanted to get a job. I was not really expecting it to be a way to think of myself beside others not like me, who did not pay with food stamps, but with their platinum visas or Disney point cards. It was never about what I loved, but what I lacked. The money. The thing is, I want my independence back and I will never take no for an answer!