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“You’re White Washed”

...And Other Lousy Things Latinos Say To Each Other

Irene Arguelles was born in East Los Angeles. Her parents were both born in Mexico and arrived in the US as youth themselves. Growing up,  Irene remembers her mother being a strong, hard women whereas her father was warmer. Tension between her and her family began when she chose to attend school out of state. While Irene saw this as ‘opportunity,’ her family saw this as her moving away from her culture.

Irene attended college in a mostly ‘white’ school. She recalls showing her mother pictures of her with her new friends and her mother asked her if she felt afraid that her white friends would turn on her. Ironically during family conversations, Irene recalls her ideas and opinions being regarded as ‘whitewashed’.

Upon college graduation, she told her parents that she was going to stay out of state to attend graduate school. Unfortunately, her father felt this decision was a betrayal to her culture and roots.

Irene remained determined to continue her education and to this day is a successful contributing member of her community as Director of Mental Health Services of Denver, CO.


Irene: Well when I went away to college my parents were very protective and had hoped that I would go to school locally and I kind of didn’t get it until I started sending pictures home to my family and I was this brown face in a sea of white. Doesn’t creep you out? Does it scare you sometimes? And I was like,’what are you talking about and she was like, ‘they might turn on you’. I was like, ‘no, I have never thought about it these people are my friends’ and she said. ‘okay’ (music) My full name is Irene Guadalupe Arguelles. I was born in East Los Angeles both my parents came to the States in elementary school. My mother was born in Juarez a very poor rural area of Mexico. My father was born more to middle-class family in the capital. My mother is a very strong kind of hard woman. If I fell she wasn’t gonna swoop in and hold me. I never felt bad about that. She wasn’t built like that. Whereas my father was incredibly warm my father. He was the one who took me prom dress shopping. My mom got pregnant her senior year of high school and that was always lingering about how that changed her life. I knew that was not gonna happen for me, I mean, I was so focused on college and getting my degree. So when I was looking at colleges, my parents wanted me to stay in Southern California, not too far but I started looking at colleges out of state and I knew for sure it was an opportunity. There was tension at the home. There were tears. They weren’t tears of happiness. It was easier for them to be angry at me when I left than sad. Probably a month and a half before I graduated I realized I got a job that I was gonna stay here and apply to graduate school and when I told my parents they had a very negative reaction and my father felt very betrayed and he told me that they would not be coming out to my college graduation and I thought he is just blowing hot air he is gonna come around but he meant it.  He felt that culturally I was leaving my roots and my people and he just thought it was a betrayal.  Anytime there was conflict when I would come home or I had an opposing view to them I was always labeled as a whitewashed way of thinking like a coconut or an oreo. When it’s been used against me I feel like it’s a way of saying that I’ve  moved away from my culture or who I am or I am trying to deny what I am which I think, I mean, no one is gonna look at me and mistake me for being white.

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