“What’s the Difference?” Friend, Sept. 2007, 16–18
My knees shook a little and my stomach fluttered as I stood with Mom in the office of my new school. I straightened my shirt and tried to see my reflection in the glass door. My family had just moved from another state, and now here I was on my first day of fourth grade. Would I make friends here? I wondered. Would they like me? Was anyone going to sit by me at lunch?
A lady walked out from behind the counter and gave me a big smile. “Hi, Christina, I’m Mrs. Collins. I’ll take you to your class.”
I nodded. Mom bent down and gave me a hug. “You’ll be fine,” she whispered in my ear. “I’ll see you after school, OK?”
I nodded again, afraid that if I said anything, I would start to cry. Mom left the office and walked down the front steps of the school. I felt like running after her, but Mrs. Collins put her hand on my shoulder and led me down a long hallway. I glanced into classrooms and saw a few kids looking out the door at us as we walked by. Would any of them be my friends? We finally came to my classroom, and Mrs. Collins introduced me to the teacher. Mrs. Murphy smiled. “We’re glad to have you in our class, Christina,” she said. “You can sit next to Melissa.”
She pointed out a girl and I made my way to the empty desk next to her. I slid into my seat and smiled a little at Melissa. “Hi,” I said softly.
She smiled a little too. “Hi.”
I took a deep breath and tried to slow down my racing heart. Some of the kids turned around to look at me. I heard whispering and a few giggles, and I felt my face turning red. Did they not like me already?
A little while later, the class visited the school library. I tried to stay close to Melissa, but she went with a different reading group. Most of the girls quickly sat down at the round tables with their friends and favorite books. There wasn’t anywhere for me to sit, so I pretended to look at different books as I walked up and down through the rows of shelves. When I came to the end of one row, I was right in front of a table of girls. I recognized one of them from my new Primary class. I swallowed hard and smiled. Maybe they could be my friends.
Suddenly, the girl closest to me leaned back in her chair, as if she were trying to get away from me. “Why is your skin dark?” she asked.
“Um. …” I didn’t know what to say.
“Why do you look different?” another girl asked.
“What are you?”
I tried to smile at their questions, but the girls weren’t smiling at me. They looked like they were smelling rotten food. Just then Mrs. Murphy walked in. “OK, class, it’s time to go back to the room.”
I didn’t look at anyone as we walked back to the classroom. For the rest of the day, I peeked at kids around me and tried to see why those girls thought I was different. None of my old friends thought I was different. No one at my old school had ever asked me what I was, and I didn’t know how to answer. I was me, that’s what I was.
I looked at my arm, and then at Melissa’s arm resting on her desk. My arm was a lot browner than hers. I scooted close to my desk and hid my arms underneath it.
“How was your day?” Mom asked when I got home from school.
“Mom, why is my skin dark?”
“Why do you ask?”
“A girl in my class asked me why. These girls wanted to know why I look … different.” I started to cry.
Mom pulled me into her arms and wiped the tears off my cheeks. “Oh, honey, everybody’s different. It’s not a bad thing.”
“Those girls aren’t different,” I said. “They all look the same. They all have blonde hair and blue eyes.”
“All of them?”
I thought about the girls in my class. “Well, no. But why is my skin darker than theirs? I didn’t think I was different. Those girls think there’s something wrong with me.”
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you,” Mom said, hugging me tight. “Do you remember the stories about my ancestors?” she asked.
I sniffed and shrugged.
“Grandma and Grandpa Ruiz are from Texas, but their parents’ families came from Mexico. They had beautiful skin like yours. When we put my ancestors and Dad’s ancestors together, you come from all over! Mexico, Scotland, Spain, England, and probably other places we haven’t found in our family history yet. You are the best combination you could be!”
“I don’t want to be different than kids here,” I said.
“Because I want to have friends.”
Mom frowned. “Do you want to have friends who hurt your feelings like those girls did?”
I thought about it, and then shook my head. “I’ll try to find friends who like me for me.”
The next morning at school, Melissa looked up at me as I put my backpack next to my desk. I looked at her, afraid of what she might say. Was she going to ask me why I looked different?
“Hi, Christina,” she said. “Do you want to play with me and Sarah at recess?”
I grinned and nodded. Melissa’s blue eyes shined as she tucked her blonde hair behind her ears, but I noticed her wide smile the most.
“No man who makes [unkind] remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. … Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” Ensign, May 2006, 58.