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My friendship with "Joe" (not his real name) started back in sixth grade. It was kind of ironic how we met. We were hanging out in our classroom staring at unknown faces. Then all of a sudden he got punched right in the face, I guess because he was black and he was looking at a Latino kid in a certain way. Anyhow, a fight started. He was getting beat up viciously, so I stepped in for him and before I knew it, I was getting beat up with him.

After that day we started hanging with each other on a daily basis. Though we were from different races, we treated each other like we were true brothers. We visited each other’s houses almost every day. We used to play basketball at the Ross Snyder Park at night.

Since we both attended Jefferson High, Joe and I heard the rumors that there was going to be a fight on April 14 between the Mexicans and blacks. He promised me there was no way he was going to get involved, and I told him the same thing.

But on the day of the fight, when another friend called me and said I needed to back up my Mexican friends, I just wanted to defend my pride. I know that was a stupid reason to miss a day of school. But I wanted to stand up for my family, my Mexican ancestors, and the people who worked hard so I could be here—my heritage that I’m really proud of.

When I attended Carver Middle School back in the day, I had an African-American teacher who said, "Mexicans are just lazy people who want to get free money from the government. Even their ancestors were so lazy that it’s a wonder how they survived." I got frustrated when he said that. Most of his students were Latinos, there were fewer than a dozen African-American students. And the only students who were failing that class were all the Latinos. When we got our mid-term grades all of the Latinos got together and formed a study group to help each other pass the class. A couple weeks went by and we were all anxious to see whether we passed. All of us Latinos got As and Bs. We defended our Mexican pride and ancestors by proving to that teacher that he was wrong about our ancestors being lazy.

I guess that’s why I joined in the fight, because we Mexicans can’t let anybody hold us back. During the fight I felt good defending my race. I was hitting anybody I could get my hands on. Then I saw Joe and he saw me. It was one of those cold moments where you just stay frozen for a while. He had betrayed me and broken his promise, and I guess I had too.

From then on we were enemies. We have to be, because we both know that if we hang out with each other we will get beat up by members of our own races. The reason is that our races would probably think that we were betraying our own people. So pretty much, we don’t take that risk. Because of that fight, I lost many friends who are African American. The whole tension between Latinos and blacks is changing the way we all think about each other.

Many of my friends who knew that I was involved with the fight asked me, "Aren’t you proud that our people are at war with the blacks?" To tell the truth, I’m not really proud of what I did. I lost my best friend, how can I be proud of that? My pride doesn’t mean anything unless I got my closest friends with me. I regret the day I joined the riot and I am disappointed in my sense of pride.

After the fight, I started thinking about things a lot. I asked myself, Why did I join this fight? Why didn’t I say something to stop my friends? My parents don’t want that for me. They want me to get an education and make something out of myself. I’ve got a little brother and a baby sister to think about. I realized I was part of the problem, and I want to be part of the solution.

An unexpected encounter

Recently I was taking the bus to school and a black guy came over to me. I thought he might mug me, but instead he asked me if I knew about the fight at Jefferson.

"That was just stupidity," I told him.

He told me we are all cut from the same stone, and we have to stick together to be a strong community. If we try to break the stone up into individual pieces, it will just crumble to dust. But if we’re together, we’re like a rock. It really surprised me. I thought he was going to take a swing at me, and instead he told me these things. Nobody would have thought I would take advice from a black man, but he had a good point.

If I could make any kind of impossible change, I would bring together all the Latinos and Chicanos and Mexicans and blacks and we would all work together as one community. It would be a cool dream because every morning when you walked out of the house, you could just say "Wassup?" to anybody you saw.

But maybe I can do something smaller. Maybe I can show my little sister and brother how to get around without any violence, how to get along with other races. Then my brother will pass it on to his friends, and they’ll pass it on to their friends. It’ll be like a little cycle. I want to prevent violence. I want to make a change. That’s what kids need to see—someone who is trying to make a difference.