After the racially-motivated food fight at South High, a friend asked me if I’d seen any interracial tensions at Wellstone. I said that everyone seems to get along, although their close friends are generally people of their own ethnicity/language background. I’m not naive, and I know I don’t see everything. So I decided to pay closer attention to student interactions.
I think I was right in my initial belief. I haven’t seen anyone getting bullied or even giggled at as they walk away. Some kids keep to themselves more than others, mostly the ones without big groups of students of their own backgrounds. (Wellstone is about 45% Latino, 45% East African, and 10% other.) But the other students are friendly enough to them, both in class and on the field trip I took last week.
I’m not sure why this is. I know these kids aren’t angels and I’m sure they’re plenty capable of being jerks, same as the rest of us. I suspect that it has to do with the fact that they all feel like outsiders to certain extent. “I miss where I’m from, you miss where you’re from, let’s not make a big thing out of it.”
The school is also not very big. I estimate about 200 students, although I only see a percentage of them. The teachers refer to most of them by first names only (as in, “Penelope* is doing really well lately”) and everyone seems to follow along. And all the students all have started within the past few years at most. There’s no teasing about how you puked on spaghetti day in third grade because nobody knows about that. I have noticed a few boy-girl couples, but none that cross cultural boundaries.
There is also the fact that the Latino kids have Spanish, and everybody wants Spanish. I’ve come across two African boys on two separate days saying, “I know ‘te amo.’ That’s ‘I love you,’ right?” (Why do they want to say “I love you”? Are they planning to make moves on the Latino girls? Hey, they seem like nice girls for the most part.) I also heard a Latino boy saying either “cono” or “coño” instructionally to one of the African girls. I tried to nip that in the bud just in case. The boy in question is likable but a bit of a troublemaker, and I would not put it past him to bust out “coño.”
According to the teachers, the African students have started saying “finishado,” which means absolutely nothing, when they’re done with assignments, and that’s traveled back to the Latino kids. “Oh my gatos” is also a popular expression. Is this how creoles are born? If so, I’m completely in favor of it.
I’m going to keep observing this because it’s a fascinating topic. I haven’t witnessed any interactions with the Roosevelt High kids, who are in the same building as Wellstone. And I realize that my presence affects the situation–nobody is going to knowingly break the rules in front of a perceived authority figure. I’m glad I haven’t seen any trouble, but I hope it’s because it’s not there and not because it’s deep underground.
*Name changed. As far as I know, there are no students named Penelope at Wellstone.