It wasn't the first time I'd been called a stupid Mexican. At nineteen, working as a cashier at a chain retailer in my native Oregon in the United States, I had heard the nasty phrase plenty of times. Having been poor myself I was fairly certain the women in my line were also poor. One of the women was demanding I give her a relative's employee discount, against store policy. Even though I felt bad, I also needed my job. I was working my way through college at a private university where the tuition was incredibly high. My parents couldn't help me. I was stuck with a big fat tuition bill every semester and a fridge nearing empty. This was my primary, and best paying, job. I had to keep it.
I tried to get around the policy without success. Finally I told her I was sorry, I couldn't put it through. She continued insisting until a senior employee approved the discount for me. Relieved I turned to approve it. “She's just another stupid Mexican,” she said loudly to her companion. The other woman just nodded, her glasses hugely magnifying her eyes. It felt as though I'd been flash frozen. My lips were numb and my dulled fingertips slid stupidly over my cash register's keypad, feeling almost blue from shock. I'd certainly been called a stupid Mexican, and worse, before. But I had started college thinking I could escape it. If I went to college and took in as much knowledge as a I could, no matter the actual monetary, physical, or emotional cost I could get past being a stupid Mexican. All it took was an unhappy bitter woman in a check out line to make it feel like everything I had worked for was moot.
My brain thawed enough to come up with some snappy comebacks, all of them completely inappropriate of course, and as I handed her the receipt I could only think about needing my job. The women weren't even out the door before I bolted for the bathroom where I cried my eyes out. In the hiccuping aftermath I realized I hadn't spoken up because of fear. I had let the fear of no job and a looming tuition bill keep me from talking back. It was there I decided I had to speak up. Not just for me, but for those who couldn't. Women who are poor or oppressed. It has led me to raise money for Equality Now, a global non-profit dedicated to the equality of women and girls and ending violence and discrimination against them, for the past five years.
It has led me to World Pulse. At one time I lost my voice, but I've found it. Now I have to share it. Because there is strength in us coming together. Strength in our understanding of each other and in helping each other out of the poverty and ignorance that holds us down and pits us against one another.