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The two sides of the playground

Judges selected seven winners from more than 100 entries in the 2015 Sam and Jackie Wong-Alhambra Source Scholarship. Alhambra high school seniors and recent graduates were asked to write about their heritage and how it had come to shape them. The winners each received a $500 scholarship award, along with the opportunity to have their essays published in Alhambra Source. This week, we feature an essay from Felice Gonzales, who will be attending UC Riverside to study Business Administration. Regarding her transition to college, she wrote to the Source to say that she's a "very eager teenager anxious to begin adulthood and 'independence' in the upcoming fall." She added that she wants to study abroad one day, and has an interest in both teaching and public speaking. Currently, she works as an assistant to Alhambra councilmember Gary Yamauchi, who Felice says has inspired her to work in both the political and business fields. 
When I first walked passed the gates of Garfield Elementary School, I noticed the clear-cut difference compared to my previous school. The play area around the bungalows was surrounded by girls who wore makeup and boys flocking around them, while the basketball courts were filled by kids holding bags entirely filled with books. Unlike typical scenarios of a school playground, however, each group of friends was dominated by a specific ethnicity, stemming from either Mexican or Chinese heritage. 
Felice Gonzales (bottom row, fourth from left) with the Alhambra speech and debate teamWhat conflicted me the most was the strictly defined sense of belongingness among these two ethnic groups. Unlike my previous community and school, there was a notable distinction that differentiated the students here, not just in racial background but also in attitude towards school. This new area possessed a unique culture with specific rules of belonging. And although my skin color remained dark, and my last name "Gonzales," my mother instilled in me the principles of a typical, Asian-Filipino daughter.
With my complexion, I fit in with the majority of the Latino kids. Many of these kids were at the top of the social ladder in school, knowing exactly what to say at the right time, and always socializing. They threw the right parties in addition to dominating the “cool” extracurricular activities such as baseball, football, and drill. On the flip side, the Asian kids were more involved during class and stuck to their own groups and their own cliques during lunch. At the time, these students often only talked to the other kids who were in the equivalent academic caliber and held the same ethnic background. These kids dominated the academic clubs, service clubs, student government, badminton, and volleyball. What intrigued me most, nonetheless, was the fact that specific extracurricular activities and circles of friends were dominated by a certain heritage, which were either Latino or Asian.
As a minority, the idea of constantly proving myself in order to belong with both ethnic groups remained a challenge throughout the early stages of my high school experience. As a sophomore, I was criticized by the graduating seniors of ASB for being accepted only because of my last name and how the advisor wanted to showcase racially diverse, student body leaders. As a member of the Speech and Debate team, my peers often joked about me being the first Mexican to join the team. During the time I hung around my friends, I was considered a nerd for being in academic clubs and going home early to do homework. While these little experiences appear insignificant, as a minority I have realized that these racial barriers long existed within the halls of Alhambra High School.  

Gonzales reading from her winning essay at Alhambra Source's book launch party

Given the choice today, I would not have changed a single decision I made in the past. As a minority, I was able to witness the gradual changes for diversity within my school by taking action through my clubs and academic courses. Teachers and school advisors made a huge effort in gathering students from different heritages in order to develop racially rich clubs. The racial division that was once considered the status quo gradually declined, which led to potentially diverse, student-run activities.
When I first moved to Alhambra, I felt that, as a minority, cultural clashes played a significant role in my own transition. As I moved from a Filipino dominant area to the San Gabriel Valley area, I first believed that it would take years to finally feel accustomed to the new streets and people. At first, I felt that this new area lacked diversity and was culturally centered to only a select group. Little did I know that Alhambra would play such a huge role in the introduction of a new lifestyle. Various Asian and Latino food, promotional events, shops, and markets allowed all people with different heritages to find their similarities. 
As a graduating senior of Alhambra High School, I have come to realize that although I live in a majority-minority community, a plethora of changes and events allowed diversity inside and outside of school. Although the idea of belongingness remains as a common struggle for most adolescents, I learned that this issue can only be solved through adaptation and willingness to participate and interact with all people. 

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