Student essay: I’m not illegal, thanks for asking

As part of a Denver South High School class visit to a History Colorado exhibition on race, student Mariba Estrada wrote this essay.

I'm not illegal, thanks for asking

The dictionary defines race as "a social concept used to categorize humans into large and distinct groups by ethnic and other traditions."

For me, race is only a word used as an excuse to make people feel less than, and excluded from other races and privileges. Eugenics (the “belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population”) has had a huge impact in its significance. It is science that was praised in the past is considered racist and is in fact false, yet it influenced so many people in the way they taught and treated each other.

Today, it is very difficult to speak of race. What is it? I still don't know, but race was created by the eugenics movement, which influenced segregation affecting many people, and I happen to be one of them.

Egenics and its "science" was a way of improving a human population by controlled "breeding" with desirable heritable traits. This was their way of improving the human race, eliminating anything or anyone who did not fit that category. The way these scientists categorized people was by measuring the size of the skull and the human body.

In the documentary, “The Power of an Illusion,” it went over the differences between a biological and social view of race. A biological view of race is when a person, like a scientist, focuses more on the amount of melanin in one's skin. In the 1930's, the biological view of race was based on body and skull measurements.

The social view of race then and today is based on the color of a person's skin and other external differences. An example would be how athletic a person is. In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, a black man named Jesse Owens won four gold medals. Scientists and eugenicists spent a lot of time analyzing him. They concluded that because of his strength and athleticism he was a relative of the “primitives.” So they thought all black people were athletes and related to the “primitives.” Today we know that Eugenics was not only wrong, but racist. Their work fueled segregation and tension for people everywhere.

Many people were discriminated at this time because they were non-white and unfit for eugenicists’ ideal for improving humanity. In the Immigration Act of 1924, Eastern Europeans, Jews, Arabs and East Asians were prohibited from entering the country.

To add to that injustice, thousands of people who were considered "unfit" were sterilized. I can't imagine who in their right mind could do that? It's ridiculous. It is a good thing that it no longer happens. Imagine how the world would be if all immigrants and non-whites were sterilized -- there would be no culture and everyone would be the same.

Today the science of "racial cleansing" does not exist. Or does it? In my opinion it isn't as drastic as the idea of eugenics, but I feel like it's still going on. Many Americans consider themselves not racist but if they are the ones in control of the country, why is there so much discrimination going on?

Recently, I've seen many incidents on the news involving the murder of many young black men, who happen to be killed not by drugs, not by street fighting, but by white male cops.. The thing that bothers all of us is why are police officers shooting unarmed people? Is it something based on race or power?

The immigration situation right now is tense. Young children in the ages 7 and up are traveling in dangerous conditions, running away from drugs, gangs, and abuse in search for a better life. To find what? That after all they have gone through, thinking they have reached paradise, are being sent back to the devil’s mouth. If they are lucky to stay, they are watched by the government. Will they stay or will they be deported too, along with the rest of us?

I personally blame Eugenics for this because with its false knowledge, they influenced people to notice the differences in and to treat them separately. Measuring a person's skull and body doesn't determine their race or who they are. Because we are in the year 2014, people believe that discrimination no longer exists. The truth is it's still alive and is affecting life opportunities of non-whites. I know because I am not white. 

Eugenics has left a mark and caused a lot of prejudice and racism today. For me, it hasn't been very easy to deal with the discrimination that my family and I have experienced.

"Yes, I am Mexican" and "I'm legal" used to cause a lot of problems for me as a child. At the Colorado History Center’s exhibit “Race: Are We So Different?” I read a lot of short stories of people who went through painful and sad situations because of their race. I can't say my story is the saddest because in the end, they are all sad because I can't believe it's still going on.

My best friend in elementary school was a white girl (no names mentioned), and we did everything together. Classwork, homework, and anything best friends do. One night we had a sleepover at her house and everything seemed perfect that is until I woke up. It was about 11pm or so when I had to use the restroom. Her dad's room happened to be across the hall and his door was slightly opened.

"I don't want that immigrant in here... that wetback...," was what I heard. Who could her grandmother be talking about? I'm legal, and I'm not a “wetback.” All sorts of racial slurs flew out her mouth. She told her son to not allow this child in the house anymore. That was my first experience with racism.

The second time it happened was in middle school. I can't remember the date but Influenza was spreading. All the white students at school referred to it as the "pig flu" that came from Mexico. As far as they knew I came from Mexico and was an immigrant therefore I had the flu. Wrong. I am a citizen. I was born in the U.S. But did they care? No, all that mattered was my skin color.

The third, last but not least, issue I will discuss is housing. In the article “Where Race Lives,” it states, "minorities are still barred from desirable communities and lose out on opportunities to accumulate wealth through rising property values, socioeconomic inequalities between racial groups  will continue to be reinforced."

This is true because when my parents tried to help me get an apartment, no one in that specific area allowed people without a SSN to rent an apartment. Around Evans and Quebec in Denver, you absolutely needed to have a SSN or a Colorado ID to be able to rent. It irritates me so bad, the way my parents are treated because of that. My parents have been living here long enough and paying taxes to have at least their residency. It's unfair I just can't get over the fact that this type of discrimination is going on. Just because of our skin color, our "race" doesn't make us any less than others. I'm legal but the term “race” doesn't change who I am.

All in all, Eugenics has had a great impact on race and the way people see each other. Measuring people's body and skull doesn't determine race, but decades ago, people thought this information was true. People began to create segregation and discrimination, and it didn't stop there. Today there is still discrimination for many people and false assumptions based on skin color and race. For me it was hard growing up as I was always asked if I was legal or not and if my parents were. Being called names didn't help either, but race and the effects it has on people is something that I will never understand.