Conversations: Bullying from the kids’ perspective
Families gather in all kinds of communities to talk about things that matter most to them and recently, the three Cortez sisters spoke candidly about bullying. Growing up in Presidio, Texas and now Nogales, Arizona, the sisters are currently in high school (Maria), middle school (Luisa) and elementary (Frida).
Maria, 15: I think bullies would have a hard time taking us on when we’re all together, but we go to different schools, so we’re kind of on our own during the day. It’s been a while since I was bullied, but I remember everything about it, like it just happened yesterday. You don’t forget the way it feels. Like, ‘This isn’t supposed to happen,’ and ‘What’s wrong with me that I’m the one being bullied? Why pick me?’
Luisa, 13: I still get bullied, even though the teachers talk a big game about “zero tolerance” and speakers come into our classes to talk about bullying. But they’re never around when it happens, and the kids my age are the same size—some are bigger—than the teachers, so I don’t know what they’d do even if they were. Anyway, the girls in my class know how to find the right moment to do something and get away with it. It doesn’t take much. You look at them the wrong way. They think you’re sucking up to the teacher or maybe that the guy they like looks at you too much. It’s loco.
Frida, 10: Yeh, well you’re a flirt, so that last one….hmmmm.
Maria: But you’ve never been bullied for being Mexican?
Luisa: Ayyy, no! The girls in my class wouldn’t dare go there with me. Anyway, I’m American. We were all born here. Why are you going there Maria?
Maria: Well, we all still look Mexican, especially to the stuck up, rich Instagram girls. They don’t ask for my papers. They just write me off as trash.
Frida: I thought you said you don’t get bullied anymore.
Maria: I don’t. Not, like, actively. I hold my own now. But those same girls can still make me feel the way they used to just by looking me up and down.
Frida: Maria! Not cool. Do you want me to start following them on Instagram and shading them?
Maria: Ha! Noooooooooo. You’re funny though…tough stuff for the runt of the family.
Frida: I’m not a runt at my school. No one messes with me there.
Maria: Yeh, mom’s told me all about that. And her trips to the principal’s office. Girl, you’re the bully at your school!
Frida: I’m not a bully. I just make sure no one talks trash about me, or my friends. Lina, Jen, and April have my back at school the way you two would if we were all in the same grade.
Maria: You mean, you’re a girl gang who scares the crap out of everyone before they have a chance to do it to you. Luisa, this is you, right. Your influence. You’re always coaching Frida, online and offline. Don’t get Baby in trouble at school with this stuff. Bullies don’t go to Harvard.
Luisa: Yeh, victims don’t either. And there’s nothing wrong with Frida getting through school without being on the business end of some serious shade. Or worse. I got jumped twice by a gang of girls before I started standing up for myself. You remember those days. I’d come home with a black eye and nothing would happen to the girls who did it. They even filmed it.
Maria: One girl got sent to another school I remember.
Luisa: Yeh, and her friends more than made up for it after she did. They said it was my fault, but it was the school that bounced her. Anyway, they pick on easier targets these days.
Frida: We stand up for ourselves Maria. I can’t believe you didn’t.
Maria: I’m fine Baby, (laughs).
Luisa: So you’ve never been bullied (looks at Frida) and you’ve never bullied anyone else (looks at Maria). Hmmmm. I’ll just say that until the teachers do a better job at stopping it, I’m not changing a thing. Anyway, mom’s never had to go to the principal’s office about me. I’m too good at it. I do little sly things…just enough to get the real trouble focusing somewhere else. I figured out how the other girls got away with it and just did some of what they do.
Maria: Yeh, and you taught Frida how to do it too. (Looks at both, arching an eyebrow.) You two weren’t old enough to remember dad bullying mom. But I was. No way was I going to become that guy. And when boys at school ever tried talking to me the way dad would talk to mom I just wrote them off. Good. Bye. No one will ever treat me the way he treated her. Frida, I have no doubt you know how to handle your business at school. You’ve always been the fiercest of the three of us. It’s like you were raised by a pack of wolves.
Luisa: That sounds like us at the dinner table: a pack of wolves.
Frida: Yeh, but with long red fingernails instead of claws.
Maria: I don’t know… (picks up Frida’s hand). These look like claws to me. Have you really hit or scratched someone with these?
Frida: Nah, that’s old school. I just intimidate the meanest girls with my magic words (laughs).
Maria: Well, it’s not the way to go. I don’t regret getting through the worst of bullying the way I did. I just hope you two can say the same when you’re my age.
Frida: But I’ve never been bullied. Isn’t that the goal?
Maria: Not if you turn into a bully yourself. Don’t become one, Chihuahua. Don’t become dad. I think it really hurts mom to think of you that way.
Frida: I don’t even remember him, so how could I? Anyway…don’t become mom. To hear you tell it, she was a doormat back then. I’ll never be that. You shouldn’t either.
Maria: I’m no doormat. I just figured out what was behind some of the bullying and started to feel sorry for the bullies more than I felt scared or angry. I figured they were as unhappy as dad and then I just said things like “I feel sorry for you” which totally caught them off guard. Really pissed off a few, but anyway, it seemed to take a lot of their power away. I stopped letting them have any power over me. Mom did the same thing when she needed to. She’s no doormat.
Luisa: Yeh, mom is feisty.
Maria: We’re the Cortez girls, mom included. And no one messes with us…or turns us into bullies. Got it?
Frida: Grrrrrr. (Curls hand into claw and smiles.)