The project “Family Histories and Stories” with Ms. Riechel’s freshman Ethnic Studies class at Mission High School explored students’ cultural roots through oral histories of their family members. It was a multiweek process—students conducted interviews, transcribed stories, and used them to help make sense of their own lives.
I interviewed my mother, who claims she’s forty, but she’s been forty for about three years now. My mother is African American and Creole. I’m pretty sure she’s a woman, based on the fact that she had a child. We live in an apartment complex in San Francisco. My mother goes to Heald College to be able to work at a hospital. She’s like a big kid most of the time, but when she is serious it can come off as irritated. During this interview she was wearing pajamas and this beat-up shirt my sister and I have begged her to throw away. It’s her favorite shirt in the world and it’s older than she is. We did this interview in my room on the floor while watching our favorite TV show, called Bones. To explain her personality I’d say she’s moody, yet young at heart. She is highly professional.
What I learned from this interview about my mother that I didn’t know before if that she had a rough childhood. She grew up in Chicago. It has a reputation for high crime rates. Back then in Chicago, you weren’t allowed to be educated with other races. My mother claims she didn’t see a white person until her mid-twenties. She had rags instead of riches. My mother says she didn’t blossom until the summer before her senior year in college, so you can guess that her popularity level was low. She was raised by both her parents in one house, which you would think would be lucky. But for her, it wasn’t. My grandmother and grandfather do not get along to this day. If I could imagine them, then I feel bad for my mother. She had three brothers and a sister. One of my uncles passed several years ago. We thought of him as holding the family together. “It made me stronger because it taught me to fight for what I want and need” is what my mother always says.
“One time there was a fire by your school and I was a worried parent and wanted to know if you were okay. The policewoman wouldn’t allow me to retrieve you from the school because she thought I was lying about having a child that attended the school and accused me of being a drunk who was being nosy. She asked me questions about me being intoxicated and if I ever abused drugs, and to me these assumptions were indeed because of my race. It wasn’t until you came running down the hill as living proof that she allowed me to take my child home.”
Doing this assignment, I not only learned how to interview people properly, but I learned a lot more about my mother. Even though her concerns can come off as annoying or overbearing, I have to recognize that she loves me and wants the best for me.