From Latina 'Wuss' to Latina 'Firecracker': My Story: Alvarez

Posted: Apr 22 2014

You know, when I was a little girl going to parochial school, I was little (in stature). As in, one of the shortest, thinnest girls in my kindergarten, first and second grade classes. I wore glasses, too and that seemed to contribute to my shy personality. I was the perfect mark for the classroom bully.

She was bigger than me, in height and weight. She stood over me by about 3 inches and I saw every one of those inches every time she stood in front of me, threatening to beat me up.

‘Stay out of my way, Barbara, or I’ll beat you up.’ She said this perfectly with the perfect scowl on her face. And it scared me. I stayed out of her way. As far as being a Latina firecracker, I was more like a Latina wuss.

Fast forward to junior high school. I had done nothing to get in touch with my inner firecracker. Now, my nemesis was more girls! Girls who liked the guy I was crushing on and who threatened to beat me into a pulp.

‘Meet me after school and we’ll see who’s better.’

Instead, I snuck out a different exit and hightailed it home. Ay, yay-yay. Thankfully, the next day, that girl had all but forgotten about her ‘invitation’ to fight her. Still, I made myself as small as I could whenever I knew she was nearby. I was still a small, skinny pretty unconfident little kid.

Throughout college, when I was earning my bachelor’s degree in social work, I was still working on that wallflower-ness. I still didn’t get that clue and toughen up. It was fine, I didn’t need to. Life was placid. I was able to navigate my way through picking classes, graduation and so on. Then I got married and had the first of my two boys. And my ‘wussiness’ went on. ..

However, I was getting a bit better at speaking up for myself and my little boy (now an adult, married and an Army officer). But when I needed to defend myself…yes, during those crucial times when you want to find the best smart-alec answer to fire back. Well, I invariably came up with the smart-ass, firecracker-y comebacks lo-ong after the encounter had ended.

A few years later, I had two boys and found a social work job with the state of New Mexico. It went great for, oh, about the first four years. Then my little family and I moved back home to southern New Mexico.

Here is where I really should have gotten acquainted with my inner firecracker, because I was about to meet the bully of all bullies. A supervisor heading one of the field offices I worked with. This supervisor took an immediate dislike to me. I on the other hand, was neutral.

Shortly after I told my immediate supervisor about my pending divorce, my coworkers began telling me to be careful, to stand up for myself because that supervisor was gunning for me. Soon enough, I found myself being isolated, then the manager would approach me, usually when I was alone and light into me for something I had or had not done. These encounters involved verbal abuse and profanity – definitely a hostile work environment.

I burned out and was suspended and fired.

This was 11 years ago and I haven’t encountered this person since. Now, of course, if s/he were to try and light into me, I’d return the courtesy and I’d have that smart-ass answer right at hand in the moment this time! And then definitely I’d share it with a large audience. I’d write an article about it, and let the world know they’d crossed that line.

-Barbara Alvarez

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