“You’re Such a Latin Girl”

Mary Ellen Mack I am proud to have grown up in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. I am proud to have grown up in an environment of normalcy. I didn’t have the typical JK through 12th grade Latin upbringing. I grew up in a community that professed the idea of shooting for the stars, but with it came the tiniest hint of doubt. That doubt has succumbed many of the kids in my neighborhood to date. I wasn’t one to take these hints. You could have waved it right in my face and it still wouldn’t have registered in my mind. The eighth grade high school selection process was a whirlwind. I was one out of seven kids to not attend Taft High School, my local area public school. My graduating class was 70 kids. The day I received my acceptance at Latin was the day that my reputation changed. I went from being seen as one of the “giftees” to being seen as a “Latin girl.” The stereotypes that have defined Latin as a whole had changed my repute with the kids I had grown up with for ten years. I was most struck with this idea when a friend came up to me and said, “you’re such a Latin girl.” Suddenly, in the matter of an hour, it seemed as if my roots had been completely abandoned and Latin’s reputation suddenly became a part of my identity.    As eighth grade progressed, I became more and more aware of the stereotype that was being forced upon me. Beyond my classmates, adults began praising me with comments like, “you’ll be able to go to college anywhere” and “boy, you must be a genius.” This standard was one that I was automatically required to uphold, in order to maintain Latin’s reputation for competitiveness and greatness. Latin was seemingly placed on a pedestal. Students were known for their academic talent, and if they achieved anything less than these lofty expectations, then outsiders deemed them as simply “not Latin-worthy.” I quickly realized how well-known Latin is for it’s economic status, with a steeping tuition rate. This idea is one that I have never been able to wrap my mind around, but to outsiders, the stereotypical Latin students adopted the “spoiled rich kid persona.” The social class of the students who attend Latin far exceeded my expectations, and the more that money became displayed, the more that Latin became known for this reputation.   These stereotypes are a force that students have internalized. This generalization has transformed the way students interact with each other and act in our community, even beyond Latin’s walls. No matter where I’m from or what I do, the “Latin stereotype” will always be with me.]]>