by Margaret Emilia Looker
I take a deep breath as the door to the dance studio loudly creaks open to unwillingly announce my tardy arrival. My mom peeks her head into the room to politely apologize for my lateness in her heavy Bolivian accent and she receives a long cold stare from Teacher Julie.
The door shuts behind my mom and I am trapped in a place where no one wants me for the next hour. I feel everyone’s judging eyes burning on my skin. I am mortified yet again as the last thing I need is something more to signal “I am not like you.” How could I get them to understand? South Americans run on a different schedule: time fits into life, not the other way around. Canadians have a special name for it, though: You’re late! And this is the ultimate social sin. I had even heard some adults say my mom doesn’t care about me because I’m always late. My thoughts run to wondering if my mom will be late picking me up which maintains a heightened level of anxiety throughout the class knowing I will have to once again endure social ostracization.
As I begin moving at the ballet bar, Teacher Julie stops the flow of the class to shout out “Margaret, suck in!”
Embarrassed I exhale the last bit of air keeping me alive. I am angry that there are no more spots in my body to hide my internal organs other than my waist and beat myself up for once again failing at my one goal: don’t stand out. Why? Because then someone will remind me that I am different. It would be years before I celebrated rather than despised this thought. Looks of superiority rain down on me from the other girls.
As if they had properly selected the “right” DNA all on their very own.
Their monocultural upbringing only acted as a catalyst for identifying my bicultural self as different. They received praises for the gift of being born looking and acting like the standard mould of a “Waterloo Beechwood girl.”
Teacher Julie begins to sort us into our spots for the performance. Her favourites glide gracefully to the front row.
Amna moves front of stage and guides Olya, Yomatie and Peggy, who glide forward
I wait patiently and am the last to be told to “go to the back.”
Margaret moves back
I am relieved to be sequestered to the place I have been told I belong: in the back row.
I have no dreams of a solo either. I knew my role was to be in the background to provide a frame to support a more worthy, special, beautiful, and talented person. I was there so these girls would learn that they are better than me.
As I aged, these memories dug into my soul and made me believe what these people thought and said.
It was only by actively choosing to embrace alternative perspectives differing from the norm and moving away from Waterloo for university that I developed the confidence to love myself as I am: a beautiful biracial butterfly. With roots in both Bolivian and Canadian culture.
Alas, these thoughts were not yet developed on that fateful day when I waited outside the ballet studio awkwardly with Teacher Julie for my mom to pick me up after class.