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This essay examines the role of Chicano youths in civil rights advocacy through the lens of Kevin Manzo's autobiography. The essay explains the topic of an identity crisis, which seems to be a prevalent concern for many young people, as well as the problems of ethnic discrimination, especially in the sense of education. I selected Kevin Manzo as the topic of my interview because he is from Mexico, which is a minority community in the United States. Ideally, one would expect members of this ethnic group to have comprehensive knowledge about the roles of the Chicano civil activist given that they belong to the category of people who have experience ethnic prejudice at different levels of governance.
Birth, Family, Education, and Early Memories
My name is Kevin Manzo, a first-year student (freshman) from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). I was born on August 31, 1999 in Hermosillo, Mexico but grew up in Central Valley (Tulare), California as an undocumented immigrant. My brother was born on August 8, 2000, which technically means he is 11 months and 23 days younger than me. Both my father and mother lived in Hermosillo with their respective families before moving to Tulare, US. Despite the social and economic challenges the two families were experiencing, my father managed to secure a high school degree while my mother only managed a middle school degree. Immediately after high school, my father worked at an assembly factor dealing in extension cords. It was during that time when my parents met and decided to form a family. Later on, my father got fired from the cords assembly factory and worked as a security guard at a high school before moving to an agricultural company in Central Valley that chops hay for animal feeds. My mother was a house wife but because of the rising femalely demands, she decided to work cleaning houses. Later, she started working on people’s fields and freezers. In fields and freezers, my mother’s roles involved unpacking fruit, cleaning, and selling to stores.
I know very little about our relatives from the mother’s side. My grandmother and grandfather (mother’s side) were born in the Pueblo. My mother has an aunt and uncles who each lives in Arizona. I have only met them once, meaning I do not know much about their lives and relations. To some extent, I do not consider them really family. From father’s side, I only remembers little about my grandfather. His name is Graff, and he is German. He was looking for some business opportunities in Mexico when he met my grandmother. My aunt and uncle from father’s side moved to Central Valley first, and were later joined by my father in 2004. My father was looking for opportunity to make extra money, hence ended up working with my uncle in the same agriculture company. About half a year after my father moved to Central Valley, my mother, brother and I decided to join him.
My father and mother had the same goal; a better life for the family. Even though they were not legally married, they decided to live together as a family. My father wanted better opportunities to make more money while my mother wanted better education for her kids. It was the desire for a better family that made my parents leave behind most of their families and relatives to form another family in Central valley (Tulare), California. Although we had come to California on a visa, it seemed that we had overstayed our welcome since the visa had expired. While in Tulare, we stayed with aunt, uncle and cousins from my father’s side for several months before renting an apartment. At 7th grade, my father decided to rent a slightly better apartment in Central Valley.
While in Mexico, I remember spending a lot of time with different members of my family. I started schooling while in Mexico, wore uniforms, and had a taco truck in the playground to buy food from. School was very different by that time. I was about five years when I left I Mexico. I was not connected to anything in Mexico and I was very young to miss a friend at that time. Although we could still communicate through phone, I really wanted to come to the US to see my father. My father used to send us part of his cheque to help my mother meet our daily expenses and stuffs like that. I also remember spending a lot of time with my family in the U.S because we were poor and did not have any other family around. First, we lived with my aunt’s family, then moved to a relatively cheaper apartment. I was enrolled in first grade where I learned Basic English in just one month. I was already getting it much easier to communicate in English than before. From an early age, I was branded the name a “gifted student” because I was smart for a first grader. I did not have many friends in elementary because I considered myself different from the White and Mexican kids. The only difference between me and other kids was that the White and Mexican Children were not ready to work hard in class. On my side, I was being pushed to work hard, secure good grades and go to college. This was the main reason why I did not connect with these kids. It was not because of culture shock because I had not been integrated into Mexican culture at that age.
I remember being mad at my parents for not learning English because in all parent conference meetings, I had to translate for them. I kept on wondering why they could not learn English while I was already knowing much of the English language. If I could learn the language in a month, why could they not do it? My mother attended English classes so she could understand but could not speak. My father, however, could only get some English commands across but not much. Despite experiences that were making life interesting in the US, there were also some significant differences, meaning we had to learn a lot in order to adapt to that kind of life. My brother and I are bilingual and can speak fluent English and Spanish. We are also bicultural. I do not remembers celebrating anything while in Mexico apart from Christmas. There is no much different between Mexican Christmas and US Christmas and thanksgiving. Celebrating Halloween in the US was a shock, but still we ended up celebrating it.
Cultural Tradition, Home Language, Friends, and Schooling
I do not remembers celebrating anything to do with Mexican or Latino cultural tradition because we were not born or raised religious. Although by father was raised as a catholic and mother raised as a Jehovah Witness, they were not devoted Christians so they did not feel the need to raise us in according to religious ways. My father and mother are super slightly religious, and we have never been in a church or mass, except when it was during a special occasion. When it comes to home language, I had to speak to my parents in Spanish because they did not understand English. My parents encouraged Spanish as the main home language but did not discourage or say they could not speak English. At times, my brother and I spoke English but amongst ourselves.
At school, I started making real friends at sixth grade in middle school. The fact that I loved playing basketball and my friends also liked basketball means that we could join as friends and play together. I found myself spending more time with Latino kids. I did not have friends from other cultures. Moreover, it was at sixth grade that I was introduced to an honor program. My teachers advised to attend the program because she noticed I was a gifted kid and the program could challenge me to become even a better student. The most surprising part of my schooling is that I applied and got admitted into all the honor classes I applied for. At grade 8, I applied for the AP system. They looked at my past grades and told me that I had to write an essay indicating why I wanted to take the course before getting a teacher’s recommendation. The kids in AP system were the top performance in their respect classes. Only two of my friends from the middle school managed to reach high school. I found the AP classes extremely easy while the senior classes became really challenging.
At second year, the AP tests became more complicated and I only managed to pass Spanish and English Language. In most cases, teachers were teaching specifically the things that would be brought on the AP test as they prepare students for collage. The teachers were lenient on grading because their focus was on AP test. My best subject was English and I felt I could do much better in the subject compared to other areas. At sophomore year, I still had to apply for the DACA in preparation for the California Dream Act. I know that through the California Dream Act, I would be deferred from deportation for two years given that I am undocumented immigrant, get an employment authorization card, temporary social security number, and apply for a California license. In my senior year, I applied for the California Dream Act to allow me pay state tuition which was meant for out of state students.
I learned about SB in my junior year and seemingly, my immediate cousin had ended up joining their program a year before me. At junior level, I started researching other collages and discovered how a degree may not mean the same thing in a person’s life. I realized that getting a degree does not guarantee a person immediate job. I felt worried and wondered if everything I have been working for was simply a waste of time. At sophomore year, I started cutting hair and got the idea of become a barber. However, I only worked as a barber when I needed money or had free time. I decided to focus the better part of my time on education because I knew it was more important than any other thing. At college, I decided to join the junior year basketball team both for extracurricular activity and for fun. Despite the mixed events and activities, both at school and home, I still had the opportunity to work hard for my mother and myself. At senior year, I knew I had to collect myself and get everything together because it was necessary that I apply for college. The fact that I already had the DACA meant that I was already qualified for the dream act. I decided to only apply for California schools because I was already familiar with environment. I ended up applying for 8 colleges, four CSU and four UCs and waited while enjoying my senior year.
It is unfortunate that I came to realize that DACA and Dream Act are the same thing after I had applied for Cal Grants. Although I was allowed to apply for Cal Grant, I could not use the same credentials to apply for FAFSA since it is federal money and I was not eligible for any federal or government program. Applying fir scholarship meant that I would provide proof of citizenship, which I did not have. The experience of having friends who are all legal citizens became more frustrating than before. It was even sad that all my friends applied and got all the grants while on my side I could not attempt an application. Even though the senior years six classes were becoming even harder, I managed to pass calculus with a mean grade of B. I later decided to join dancing lessons and football games where I managed to make more friends.
I got accepted to all the CSU I applied for including SB but was waitlisted and finally rejected by Davis. Similarly, I was rejected by the LA. I remember the day I was admitted into UCSB very well because I had been waiting for their acceptance letter. At that time, I did not have a cell phone so I could not check if I was given the chance or not. The school had just ended and when I got home I went straight away to check and found I was accepted. Deep inside I knew I wanted to go to SB because of my cousin and also because I love the school. For once, funds became a major impediment to my education. I started thinking about a community college but I realized that I would be paying almost the same amount of money as UCSB. Over the summer, I decided to concentrate on the financial aid and luckily things got solved. Finally, I was at UCSB but thought of dropping out because there were several issues with my financial aid. In addition to the financial aid, I decided to apply for a military draft since I was part of DACA. This thought did not materialize because I had not reached 18 years and so I could not get the military loan. Instead, I had to send a document indicating that I was 17 but would apply for the loan when I become 18 years.
Neighborhood, Ethnicity, College Life, and other Past Experiences
At my aunt and uncle’s place, we were always indoors and did not have time to talk to neighbors. Moreover, we only stayed with the neighbors for a few months before relocating to the new apartment. The first apartment was a complex building surrounded mostly by Latinos. Although my mother managed to make friends, my father did not care to make friends because he was busy throughout the day. The second apartment my family rented was also surrounded by Latinos but no one cared to talk to each other. This was somehow a culture shock to my parents because in Mexico, everyone talks to each other. At one point, my parents felt that the Latinos were being rude. My brother and I managed to make a few friends at the end of my seventh grade. I first experienced racial prejudice when I was in my seventh grade. A “redneck” started making fun of me and saying all bad things about Mexicans. My friends were raised in Catholic so they were more conversant with the Mexican culture. It was also the first time I was exposed to things like “communion” and “Sunday school.” My aunts, uncles, and cousins were religion but were never around to teach us Mexican culture or religion.
I did not experience prejudice or racism in high school because majority of my schoolmates were Mexicans. In both Middle School and High School, Mexicans were the majority groups. My mother became my primary source of motivation because of her greater role and influence to work hard. This also added to the fact that I wanted to go to college since I had been working hard in junior and senior classes. I thought college is the bare minimum I should try. I had a backup plan in case the college one failed because it was obvious I would always find something interesting to do. In addition to my cousin, I have other three friends who have helped me a lot. I hang with my cousin a lot more now and I feel it is nice having someone from home in college. College life has made me question the role of ethnicity. At college, I did not see myself as a traditional Mexican. I consider myself a Chicano. Even though I am not traditional Mexican, I still consider myself Mexican. However, I have learnt to hate a lot of things including Mexican music, foods, and religion. Similarly Spanish had become even worst and seeing how my people are being treated makes me angry.
Civil right movements in California’s Mexican-American communities have their roots in two areas. First is the rural agricultural communities while the second locale is the Seattle urban dwellers. Since 1960s, such kinds of movement have created a rift between States and communities with significant effects on educational goals of immigrants. Much of the struggle for civil rights was engineered by Chicano youths, particularly students who felt that they were being denied access to equal and quality education. From my interview with Kevin, it becomes clear that Chicano movement was more of a cultural issue even though there were also things to do with politics. The primary goal of the Chicano youths including Kevin is to help in constructing new transitional cultural identities and fueling a change in socio-cultural practices. All the goals of Chicano youths have been highlighted in the interview.
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