I raced back toward the rock straight into the glare of the blinding sunlight. Just a few more steps and I would be safe. My cousin’s hand tapped my back. “Got you,” he said. “The jail is over there by that pine tree.”
I walked over to the pine tree in defeat and waited to be rescued by a team mate. I didn’t like being in jail, but if there was one thing I couldn’t stand in games like this it was cheaters. I looked up and saw my cousin dash across the line and into the backyard. Someday I’ll be just as fast as you, I thought.
My older sister and I had been playing capture the flag at my cousin’s birthday party with some other kids in our extended family that we didn’t know very well. I was only eleven at the time, making me one of the younger kids at the party. When the game ended, I went inside the house and felt a refreshing wave of cool air wash over me. The sun was scorching hot and I couldn’t wait to get something to drink. I poured myself a glass of fruit punch and grabbed a cupcake from a plastic tray.
I walked into the living room, taking in the sugary smell of frosting and the tangy aroma of fruit punch and lemonade. I saw my sister and navigated through the chattering groups of people in the room. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dark room after being out in the sun for an hour. I took the sticky wrapping off of the bottom of the cupcake and listened to the conversation between my cousin and sister.
They were arguing about something, but I wasn’t sure what. “Immigrants coming into the country aren’t trying to do anything but get a better life for themselves,” my sister was trying to explain.
I won’t ever forget what my cousin said in response, “If I were in charge, I would put pill boxes on the border so Mexicans would take them and die.”
My sister and I just looked at him for a moment. At first, I didn’t really understand. No one could really think that right? Not someone in my own family that I looked up to and respected.
“These are people,” I tried to explain, feeling betrayed. But there was nothing my sister or I could have said that would have changed my cousin’s mind. His parents had taught him how to think, what to believe, and those ideas were cemented into place like an immovable mountain.
My sister got up and walked away. I looked at my cousin and left too, not sure where to go next. I ended up just sitting in a shady spot on the back deck waiting for the party to be over. Before long we just got in our car and left. On the drive home I was beginning to realize the extent of racism in our country for the first time. Even people in my own family! It just didn’t make sense to me why people cared so much about skin color.
I looked out the window and watched the blurred trees as the car raced by. I was just so confused by the whole situation. In school we had learned about empathy, and that in America, everyone is born equally. I had respected my cousin, but now I saw him very differently. I couldn’t help but wonder, would I have been like my cousin if I had grown up with his parents?
© Roy Annis. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.