Separation of Unassimilable Groups: A Critique on the perceived views on Latinos through Nicholasa Mohr’s “The Wrong Lunch Line” and “A Journey Towards a Common Ground”

The actions and manners in which a person carries them self areperpetuated by the associations with different groups of people. At times these labels become stereotypes that other groups or individuals use to classify people they do not associate as their own. They use these labels to determine who they are in relation to the “others”.
Nicholasa Mohr addresses this when she depicts the scene of how children, less prone to arbitrary grouping while adults impose their close
minded views in the most fundamental ways such as segregating a lunchroom by religion and ethnicity. Mohr writes:

 

“What’s the
trouble?” asked the other teacher. ” This child,” the woman
pointed to Yvette, “is eating lunch here with the Jewish children, and I
don’t think she’s Jewish. She doesn’t- I’ve seen her before; she gets free
lunch alright. But she looks like one of the-“Hesitating, the woman went
on, ” She looks Spanish.” “I’m sure she’s not Jewish,” said
the other teacher. “All right now,” said the first teacher,
”what are you doing here? Are you Spanish?” “Yes.”
”Why did you come over here and get in that line? You went on the wrong
lunch line!” Yvette looked down at the tray in front of her. “Get up
and come with me. Right now!” (1058)

 

Mohr highlights the objectification of Yvette when she shows
one of the teachers pointing to her and referring to her as “this
child” rather than asking Yvette her identity. The teacher then states the
assumption of Yvette not being Jewish without any inquiries. The statements
made by the teachers suggest that Jewish and Spanish students may both be qualified
to get free lunch classifying both groups as poor but  inherently different therefore disregarding
the existence of miscegenation  in the
Latino population since the Spanish colonization. Note that the teachers attempting to place Yvette in her designated lunch area never ask her if she’s Jewish but rather rely on their own preconceived notion of what a
”Spanish” person is. The second teacher asserts ” I’m sure she’s
not Jewish” writing off any potential for an error in her judgment. This
shows the narrow view that exists in the perception of Latinos and creates the
idea that people that are “Spanish” or “Jewish” can not assimilate
even on the level of food consumption. Both groups get free lunch, lowering
them to a status which allows the teachers to create systems to enforce their
lower socioeconomic status by enforcing the rules that would separate the two
groups from eating with one another. When the teacher says “You went on
the wrong line!” she implies that Yvette is not smart enough to know her
place in society and should be punished until she understands that she must be subordinate
to the arbitrary system that has been imposed on her with regards to where she
can sit because of her appearance.

When minority groups share commonalities with the mainstream
majority but are still considered “other” assimilability becomes
questionable. Groups in power aim to remain in power which is dependent on the
maintenance of class structures to perpetuate the oppression on whoever is
beneath them. In the case of the Puerto Ricans, a group which shares its
citizenship with America a complexity emerges. This complexity which is similar
to the issues of an illegitimate child being abused by step parents is the
situation of the Puerto Ricans living in America.  Mohr discusses this problem when she writes:

Schools provided
either nothing or a distorted sense of our own history. As Puerto Ricans we
knew we were not only different from Anglos, but we were also different from
other Latinos. First we were born citizens. Even the island of Puerto Rico
which was owned by the United States was not a real country, we were informed.
I learned in the public schools in New York City that it was the benevolent
Americans who saved us from the cruel Spaniards and in a sense adopted us. We
in turn should be grateful, speak only English and strive toward total
acceptance. (1074)

 

Mohr describes the experience of learning about Puerto Rican
history as “distorted” when the history lesson was even available at
all. Mohr compartmentalizes Puerto Rican’s when she highlights the American
citizenship of Puerto Ricans in contrast with their lack of a recognized
autonomous nation state. By drawing parallels to the idea of how adoption can
intensify the sentiment of not being a real member of a group Mohr shows that
Puerto Rican’s have been shortchanged by the theft of their national identity
and its replacement with a counterfeit nationality in a nation that constantly
reassures Puerto Ricans that they are second tier citizens. This contrast is highlighted
when Mohr says “we knew we were not only different from Anglos, but we
were also different from other Latinos.” This takes away from any
solidarity developing between Puerto Ricans and other Latino groups which share
the same language and history of colonization by Spain. Ironically, Mohr says
that Puerto Rican’s should “strive toward total acceptance”, an
impossible goal for an ostracized group within America and amongst Latinos.
Though it appears that the American’s are “benevolent” because of the
appearance of being less cruel than the Spaniards the American’s are cruel to
suggest that there is hope for Puerto Ricans to legitimize themselves by
assimilation when truthfully the forces of the mainstream will not allow for
them to outgrow their intermediary nationality in the purgatory that is a US
citizen but not and American.

Works Cited

Mohr, Nicholasa. A Journey Toward a Common Ground. The
Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Ed. Ilan Stavans. New York: W.W. Norton
&, 2011. 1074. Print.

Mohr, Nicholasa. The Wrong Lunch Line: Early Spring 1946.
The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Ed. Ilan Stavans. New York: W.W.
Norton &, 2011. 1056. Print.

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