Menticia hears rumbles about rumbles
My friend Menticia, a small sixth grader, is changing. Shadows are reaching down from history, from the angry side of human nature, into her innocent world. They're creeping into middle school and darkening her life.
The other day when we were talking about a book report in which she had to discuss the differences between her and the book's protagonist, she was stumped. I said, "well, what are the differences between you and me?" She instantly answered: "I'm Mexican and you're not."
Her brother is in high school and, while it's unclear whether he hangs out with the tough kids, he clearly knows them well. A couple weeks ago he told her there was going to be a fight out behind the movie theater. I said, Menticia, you're not going to go to see that, are you? She said all her friends were going.
Last week she told me that scheduled fight hadn't occurred. "The neighbors saw there were a lot of Mexican teenagers there and called the cops. They don't like to see a lot of Mexicans together." That's what her brother told her. It kind of broke my heart.
Then she said there's a big fight scheduled between the Mexican kids from all the local high schools (she rattled off the schools' names, I wouldn't have thought she'd know them) and the African-American kids. This sounded so much like West Side Story my mouth might have dropped open.
I know I can't protect Menticia from racism, and I can't protect her from the crazy decisions kids make, but I hope to contribute a protective level of skepticism about the grandeur and theatrics of racial conflicts as acted out by very young people.
Just because it might sound cool or look cool doesn't mean it is. Young people, too young to understand what they're doing, can wreck their lives in the blink of an eye.
This is the mantra I'm working on: "Maybe some people have to be stupid, but you don't." I try to remind her of all the good will she's seen among the people around her, people of many colors...
The Blue Ribbon Advocate-Mentor program wisely matches us up with our mentees when they are in fourth grade, before hormones and other complications get overwhelming. But I'm not sure I'm ready for the phase we're entering.