Chapter 3.2 – Finding My Voice

Chapter 3.2 – Finding My Voice

Quickly I learned that I could use what few advantages I had to fight for others and myself who were marginalized or bullied. This was the point in my life when my sense of outrage about injustice was born. I found a (sometimes belligerent) voice that, up until that point, I didn’t realize I had in me. It’s funny how suddenly becoming a pariah can do that to a person.

On one occasion I watched my teacher give a classmate named Angela a dressing down because she’d lost her science notebook. Angela was a white trash outcast that the other kids seemed to like even less than me. But I had seen some of the boys in my class discover Angela’s notebook on the ground and throw it on top of the lockers the day before. I watched them snicker while the teacher lectured her in front of the rest of the class about being irresponsible. I watched Angela, shoulders stooped, admit that she had no idea where her notebook was and receive her punishment with eyes brimming with tears.

When class was over and all the other students had gone out, I went up to the teacher’s desk and told her I’d seen the boys hide Angela’s notebook. She eyed me skeptically but walked over with me and peered at the top of the row of lockers and pulled the notebook down with a pained look on her face. Then she thanked me and said she would take care of it. At the next recess, I saw the three culprits sitting off to the side of the playground. They were being forced to sit out from recess for two weeks as punishment for what they’d done. Even knowing how little social capital I had, I marched up to them and informed them with a smile that I had seen them take the notebook, and that I let our teacher know. When they asked me why, I told them they were mean and that they’d made Angela cry and that they should be ashamed of themselves. I felt an intense satisfaction at the looks on their faces.

Another instance happened while my dad was working for the Palacios parks department. He had charge of several boys who were part of a rehabilitation program. The boys were all in their teens, had committed petty crimes and were working with my dad as community service. I rode along with them one day, and when my dad had gone off to gather tools, I witnessed something shocking.

There were five boys altogether that day, and four of them were Mexican; the fifth was black. All of them were sitting together respectfully while my dad was present but as soon as he left I immediately saw a change. The four Mexican boys began taunting, threatening and cursing at the black boy in Spanish and in English. Knowing he was outnumbered, the black boy sat with his eyes downcast and looked worried.

I was much younger than all of them, and I had never seen anything like this before. The boys who had ganged up against the one had become menacing in an instant. My heart raced as I watched the tension build. I was afraid for boy who was being picked on, I was afraid for myself because I was much younger and a girl; but also, I found that I was suddenly very, very angry. As I saw them start to circle their victim, I found a voice that I didn’t know I had. I said, “Stop!”

And they did. All five of them immediately froze and then turned to look at me with astonishment, as if they didn’t even realize I was there before. Wordlessly they all sat and waited until my dad returned and I informed him what had occurred. I was shaken, but I felt something else that I’d never felt before. I felt empowered, and it felt good.

*****

The years we spent in this little town, ostracized and impoverished, were deeply transformative for me.  I was still afraid of people, but I had discovered a righteous anger that motivated me to do things beyond my limitations. Some of it stemmed from vindictiveness. I began to feel that if people were going to dislike me anyway, the least I could do was make trouble for them. But much of it was the feeling I got when I took a stand. A feeling of strength and rightness that I’d never had–even from my religion. Especially from my religion.

This led to another frustration: aside from standing up to bullies, there was no real, productive outlet for my newfound sense of justice. We were supposed to help people by preaching and teaching the bible. That was it. There was no social work, no volunteering or voting. I was there to witness the injustices of the world and offer only a future hope of God’s intervention. I remember feeling like there was something else I should do. That it wasn’t enough to just talk about The End and The Paradise.

My saving grace in that town was that they had a small but decent public library. It became my home away from home especially during the long summer days where there was air conditioning and talking to people wasn’t required. I’d walk there early in the morning when it opened and stay most of the day, checking out books from every section and reading whatever random things interested me. I didn’t have friends or a lot of cool stuff, but I had access to all the free knowledge in that one building for as long as it was open.

The public library was my sanctuary. To be poor, desperate for an escape from your childhood torments, and curious about everything could have led me down some very dark paths. The library made it possible for me to learn on my own terms. Long before the Internet was available to us, I would go and find information about anything and everything that piqued my curiosity. I learned for fun at the library. I read and re-read fiction books that ignited my imagination; I picked up encyclopedia volumes and read random things that looked interesting.

I will defend, until the end of my days, the value of public libraries. They are one of the great social equalizers of any good society, and I’m grateful for them and for the kind men and women who smile knowingly as I checked out a favorite book for the fifth time, or held things that they knew I’d want to see first.

5 Replies to “Chapter 3.2 – Finding My Voice”

  1. Your personal honesty is refreshing. I understanding the finding of one’s voice, not for oneself, but for others, and it is a profound thing.

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