Blame Myself for Their Sins
In comparison to the rest of my family, I have always looked physically different from them. My parents, both of Mexican descent, had birthed me, a baby that looked as if I were of Asian descent. Of course with that came the “jokes.” I was consistently told by my other family members that I was switched at birth and that my real parents were both Asian. As a child I did not understand the cruelty of this joke, but I can look back now and feel disappointed in my family members. The jokes they made were a cruel thing to say to a child who didn’t understand why he looked the way he did. Despite that, I still grew into a somewhat narcissistic person, possibly as a result of trying to overcompensate for my insecurities.
When you’re young and consistently told that you are gifted and excel in all academics, you start feeling superior to others. With that feeling of superiority, I began to look down on peers and convince myself that none of my peers could use the words I could, none could think like I could, and, frankly, most were easily manipulatable. Without having any experiences that could prove me wrong or humble me at that young age, unfortunately, my narcissism and feelings of superiority only continued to worsen, at least up until a fateful day in middle school that would change my perspective for the rest of my life.
Middle school was likely the cruelest and harshest period of my life. A scrawny, skinny, pimple-faced, slightly Asian looking preteen like myself had not yet realized that in middle school, my narcissism combined with my lack of understanding for the cruel insults preteens could muster up were slowly combining to humble me to a degree that I had never experienced before. Despite the routine insults I experienced, my ego still managed to survive through all the bullying and name calling.
During the summer before seventh grade my first dog, a pug that had been raised with me as part of my family, passed away. My first experience with death had been one that was fueled by blame, shame, and tears. During my seventh-grade year, I had managed to make three best friends who somehow managed to ease the grief I was facing. These best friends and I were considered the cool people of our class. Being cool back then meant putting others down by hurling harsh and cruel insults at their insecurities, most likely as a way to finally feel better about ourselves. This was something I was glad to participate in until these three best friends’ decided we should hurl insults at each other. That’s when everything changed.
During the summer before seventh grade my first dog, a pug that had been raised with me as part of my family, passed away. My first experience with death had been one that was fueled by blame, shame, and tears.
What was at first simple “your mom” jokes slowly turned into crude and appalling racial comments. To say that I was above them would be a lie. I am ashamed to say that I was equally crude and appalling with my insults. This was a period of my life that I look back on and regret. I regret the things I said, the people I hurt, and I blame myself for why they called me the things they did.
One situation in particular stands out the most. What was originally a walk to the library turned into a turning point of my life. My friends and I had just left English class with the rest of the students to check out another book from the library that I would likely not end up reading. During the walk we began by throwing the typical insults at each other: how I always wore a sweater to hide my scrawny frame, how Daniel had little to no eyebrows and large hands, how Jairo was short compared with the rest of us, nothing very new. Things, however, took a turn for the worse.
Racial comments were thrown out as if they were simple foam balls to hit each other with, causing no harm whatsoever. At first it seemed as if I would be spared from these comments, up until my friend at the time, John, said the one comment that would stick with me and keep me awake at night for the rest of my middle school life. John jokingly said, “Your dog died because you ate him.” This comment not only was an insulting stereotype toward Asians, which I am not, but also was something so personal that I confided to these people who I considered friends, and they used it against me.
At that moment my feelings were inexplicable. I was unsure of whether to feel hate, embarrassment, sadness, or pure rage. Ultimately, embarrassment overshadowed every other feeling, and I responded with silence and tried to show no emotion. In the unspoken rules, if John knew that it got to me, then he would win this sick game we played.
John jokingly said, “Your dog died because you ate him.” This comment not only was an insulting stereotype toward Asians, which I am not, but also was something so personal that I confided to these people who I considered friends, and they used it against me.
The rest of the walk to the library seemed to extend into a millennium as I internally battled with all the emotions I was feeling. The hubris I used as a blanket for my insecurities was shattered, and I was left vulnerable. As we sat in the library, I simply couldn’t hold it in anymore. I cried. I cried enough for the whole class to wonder what had happened. What did someone say? My tears couldn’t stop, all I could think of was that I really did blame myself for my dog’s death and that, selfishly, I wanted nothing more than the entire world to blow up so that no one, in all of human history, could know that Miguel cried. Miguel with a huge ego, Miguel who buried his insecurities with narcissism, and Miguel who blamed himself for his dog’s death. None of the students or the teacher made an attempt to empathize with my grief besides handing me a few tissues.
After what felt like an eternity of crying, I was able to calm myself and the whole class simply avoided the entire situation as though it had never happened. In a way I was happy, but at the same time I was devastated. All I wanted was for someone to ask if I was okay. Of course I would have lied and said “Yes of course! Miguel doesn’t get sad,” shrugging it off as if it didn’t break down.
From that point on, I never really felt the same. I was unsure if I was struggling with depression, and I was too proud to tell my parents, as I, Miguel, the person who had never failed at anything in that middle school, could handle this phase on my own. My English teacher didn’t make it easier either. The teacher who I admired, the teacher who saw me getting bullied, crying in front of her, did nothing but watch as a bystander. I grew to strongly dislike her.
I cried. I cried enough for the whole class to wonder what had happened. What did someone say? My tears couldn’t stop, all I could think of was that I really did blame myself for my dog’s death and that, selfishly, I wanted nothing more than the entire world to blow up so that no one, in all of human history, could know that Miguel cried.
By the end of the school year, my friends and I had already begun to drift, the name calling and comments that we called each other had created an irreparable gap between us, and ultimately the only thing keeping us together was that we had no one else to be even remotely close with. It was around this time that I had grown to dislike them for the things they said to me. Actually, dislike would be an understatement. I despised them for it; I wished death upon them, a cruel slow one at that.
I initially lied to myself by thinking that I was the victim, that I did not deserve this, and that I had done nothing wrong at all. As time went on, however, I was able to reflect on the choices I had made as an ignorant kid and came to understand the error of my ways. I look back and I can say now that I was not a victim. Though no one deserves racial comments to be thrown at them, I created the entire situation and then it continued because of me. I easily could have gone to my parents or a teacher, but I didn’t. In fact, I encouraged the ignorant insults by giggling, participating, and hiding all signs of sadness when they threw insults at me or at others.
So, I blame myself. I blame myself for not telling them to stop, I blame myself for being a pushover, and I blame myself for participating. Most of all, I am ashamed and remorseful. I could have spared so many others from the cruel insults they hurled, but I didn’t. My middle school life was something I look back on and am ashamed of.
However, I am also grateful that I can look back on it and say firmly that I have changed and that I am no longer filled with the ignorance and hate I held inside. Though it was a tough lesson to learn, it helped me mature and become more empathetic toward everybody. I now feel at peace with the situation and, in a way, I am thankful it occurred.
Moses (“Miguel”) Ramirez is a seventeen-year-old first-generation Mexican student who is the first in his family following a conventional path to college and simultaneously attending college at this young age. He juggles his coursework and his being a role model for five younger siblings.