I was on the chess team in 8th grade. This was at all hispanic Bel Air Jr. High School in El Paso, TX. I was the only anglo kid. They called me Miguel Frito.
Let’s make a list. White kid. Thick glasses. Three hundred hispanic kids. Middle School. Puberty. Band Nerd. Chess Club. Desperate need to blend into the background. Impossible to blend into the background. You couldn’t create a better recipe for life long dependence on therapy if you tried.
I remember being driven to the first day of classes and the radio was playing Three Dog Night’s, “Black and White”.
The ink is black, the page is white
Together we learn to read and write
A child is black, a child is white
The whole world looks upon the sight, a beautiful sight
Uh-huh. Skinny white kid caught in gang crossfire. Details at ten.
I was terrified.
But it turned out to be a great year. The hispanic kids seemed to appreciate the irony of a majority kid at a minority school and instead of ostracizing me, they embraced me. I was actually popular. Girls talked to me. They thought the Chess Boy was cool.
And the next year we moved across the freeway and I went to all white Eastwood High School. And I was not popular. And girls did not talk to me.
And the Chess Boy was no longer cool.
I had blended in.