By George Zuo, 16, Sierra Vista HS
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George’s favorite Mexican foods are chicken enchilada with guacamole, and tamarindo, a sweet-and-sour fruit drink.

I was 6 when I arrived in the United States from a remote town in China. My parents moved to the United States to give me a better education and to find better job opportunities. Many Chinese immigrants who move to California live in Chinatown or a Chinese community such as Alhambra or Monterey Park. However, my parents didn’t want to do that. They wanted an environment where I would experience "American" culture. They wanted me to learn English and experience diversity. They were not wealthy enough to move to a city like Arcadia, so the best place they could find was Baldwin Park, which was close to their jobs. Baldwin Park is a mainly Latino city about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. Little did they known what fate had in store for us. It turned out that they were able to provide me with a great education, and expose me to American and Latino cultures.

Before moving to the United States, I had never even met a white, Latino or black person. They were only people on TV. So you can imagine what a shock it was to go to second grade and find practically no Chinese kids around me. I felt like I was on a weird planet. But as the years passed, I got used to this new planet.

In junior high and high school I often went to my Latino friends’ houses to hang out. Usually their parents would offer me some delicious Mexican food that I had never tried before. Though it may have seemed like a regular enchilada to them, it was an exotic food to me. The first time I drank the Mexican fruit drink called tamarindo, I thought "Man, that’s some good stuff." I just loved the fusion of sweet and sour taste. Just hanging around with my friends introduced me to their culture and how they lived. I went to a quinceañera, which is a special birthday party for a girl when she turns 15. By the time high school came around, I knew about a lot of stuff that a kid from a Chinese community would have no idea about.

Then during lunch last October, my friend Eduardo told me about MEChA. He said it was a club where students learn about college. I thought it was a club for Latinos only, but he assured me that it was OK to join. I decided to go to a meeting because college is a must in my family. I hoped to learn about the types of scholarships available and I also wanted to find out more about the prestigious colleges I had heard of, like UC Berkeley, Stanford and the Ivy Leagues.

An Asian in a Latino club?

At the first meeting, I felt nervous. Even though I was around all my friends, it still felt strange being the only Asian person in the room. It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there. But after the meeting started, I felt comfortable talking with my friends about college tuition and academic requirements. Before I knew it, the meeting was over. So after attending that first meeting, I decided to become a "Mechista," or MEChA member.

I knew that MEChA was founded as a club to help Latinos get into college but I joined even though I’m not Latino because my friend Eduardo, MEChA’s president, encouraged me. He said it was important for minorities to unite. "Even though MEChA was designed for a Latino community, the students of Sierra Vista High School believe that the purpose of MEChA should not only be for Latinos, but other minorities as well," he said.

Illustration by Sue Li, 16, Culver City HS

Well, I think that is a great idea. I think minorities need to stick together to overcome our obstacles, like racism, discrimination and stereotyping. If Asians and Latinos are in MEChA together, we can understand each other better. Club members can spread the truth about each other instead of assumptions. There will be fewer stereotypes, such as the one saying that all Asians are good with computers. For some reason, my friends always assume that I am good with computers even though I’m not.

My friends don’t treat me any differently in MEChA because I am Asian. When elections came in November, I even decided to run for external representative against two other students. An external representative attends the regional MEChA meetings at UCLA and reports back to the club about what is going on with other MEChA clubs in Los Angeles County. I thought I was going to lose, but to my surprise I won!

At club meetings, we usually talk about college. However, the meeting in early December was different. It involved an in-depth discussion about the boycott planned for Dec. 12, 2003. I learned that Latinos planned to stay home from school and work so they could show what a big contribution they make to the economy. They were doing this to protest the repeal of the law that would have allowed illegal immigrants to get a driver’s license. When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office last November, he quickly repealed the law. The club members were angry about this. Eduardo said the government always toys with minorities, promising one thing and taking it back just when it’s about to get into their hands. Many of the MEChA members felt the same way. They said the government didn’t want to help them, but was just using them to get their votes.

At first I thought the repeal was a great idea because of the terrorism threat. I thought that by not giving licenses to illegal immigrants, it would make sure that terrorists who were in this country illegally would not get licenses. But as we discussed the repeal, I heard people say that security was not a good reason to repeal the law because terrorists often don’t use legal documentation.

Until that meeting, I also did not think the law was going to help anyone I knew. I hadn’t known that some of my friends had relatives who were not legal immigrants. My friends said their relatives had looked forward to getting a license and driving legally. I felt sad for their families. Being an immigrant, I could relate because my parents struggled just to make minimum wage when they first came to the United States. I knew what the governor was doing was wrong. As a minority, I supported the boycott.

Many students in our school also supported the boycott by staying home on Dec. 12. Classes were half empty. (I wanted to stay home too but I had three tests that day and my grades were my first priority.)

MEChA has helped teach me new things about the Latino culture by allowing me to spend more time talking to my Latino friends about issues we don’t usually discuss, like the driver’s license debate and college. I’ve learned that many of my friends will be the first ones in their family to go to college. I also learned that they’ll be happy if they get into a Cal State. In my family, going to a Cal State is not enough. My parents expect me to go to a UC or an Ivy League college because to them that’s the only way to get a good job. However, I like the point of view of some of the MEChA members. If I don’t make it into a UC, I don’t mind going to a Cal State. I believe it doesn’t matter what college you go to as long as you try hard. Ten years from now all that matters is what you did with your life.

I’ve seen it’s hard to face prejudice

In MEChA I’ve also learned about the problems my friends face, such as being prejudged because of their skin color. I was surprised that people were still treated that way. Growing up in Baldwin Park, I was never discriminated against and I didn’t see Latinos being discriminated against either. A few months ago my teacher, who is Latina, told the class that she was once wrongly accused of plagiarism. Before, I would have thought she was making up the story to show us that we can overcome any obstacle. But because of MEChA, I believed her. I now understand more about prejudice and racial discrimination. It makes me angry that there is so much discrimination in the world. Although I joined MEChA to learn about college, it was a surprise to learn more about Latino culture and the community around me.

What is MEChA?

MEChA is a Latino group at high schools and colleges. Its goal is to help Latino students get into and succeed in college. MEChA stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano student movement of Aztlan).

MEChA was founded 35 years ago after a conference at UC Santa Barbara. The Mexican American Student Confederation, United Mexican American Students and Mexican American Students Association united and became MEChA. The symbol is an eagle with its wings spread holding a club-like weapon called a macahuitl, a dynamite stick and a lighted fuse in its beak.

At Sierra Vista HS, the club usually meets on a Thursday at lunch every other week. The president addresses the members and they talk about upcoming events and college topics like what scholarships and financial aid are available.

The club elects external representatives who attend regional meetings where they get college information and learn about what other MEChA clubs around Los Angeles are doing.