The Right Shoes Equal Acceptance

Delta Winds cover 1998Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Right Shoes Equal Acceptance

Gabriela Basulto

Children are the epitome of innocence and, at the same time, ignorance. In growing up, the evils and ills of society begin to filter into our minds and rectify our behavior. Simultaneously, we learn what "can" and "can't" be done, and what is "acceptable" or "unacceptable." Sometimes the reality of social conditions are not realized until someone bluntly and oftentimes purposely points it out. I was ignorant of my impoverished social condition until I was humiliated and taught to be ashamed of who I was. Later, I learned how to use that terrible experience to make myself a stronger person and acknowledge that personal value has nothing to do with material objects.

When I was a child, I had never noticed that there were social and economic divisions within society. I knew there were things I could not have, but I never knew why I could not have them. Later on, I learned why. It was because there was not enough money to go around. For me, every new shoe was a Payless Shoe Source shoe. All of my clothes came from K-Mart, but then again "Didn't everyone shop at K-Mart?" My naiveté could only be justified by my age. I never noticed what brand of clothing or shoes I wore, that is, until somebody made it obvious to me.

I was nine years old as the end of summer was nearing, and fall would give way to my fourth grade year. In my family there were five children, four of them ready to begin a new school year, and all four needing new shoes, clothes, and supplies. My mother was raising us as a single parent, so bargain-hunting was not an option, but a way of life. Our transportation anywhere was a SMART bus number eleven which would take us to the only two places we ever went shopping: K-Mart and Payless Shoe Source.

Our first stop, and the only important one on my agenda, was the shoe store. My mother cautiously unloaded her squabbling brood of children, making sure nobody was left behind, and made everyone hold each other's hands to cross the street, an activity not at all favored by my eldest brother because he adamantly believed girls had chronic cooties. Amidst accusations of "You pulled my hair!" and "You stepped on my foot!" my mother was able to corral us into the shoe store. It was a more spectacular sight than I had remembered. Shoes everywhere! All styles and colors to choose from too! I was obviously in heaven. Instantly, my eyes went to a pair of laced, not velcro mind you, white Pro Wing tennis shoes, and I knew they were perfect for me. New shoes! That meant I did not have to struggle stuffing my sock back in through the hole on the side of my old shoes. That meant I could go out and play in the rain if I wanted to without getting my feet soaked. But most of all, it meant I did not have to hide my feet because my shoes were old, tattered, and smelly. This year was going to be different than any other year; I could just feel it.

I was going into the fourth grade that year, and I was happier than a worm in a basket full of apples. Fourth grade was a big step up from third grade. In fourth grade, I did not have to share a glue bottle because I got one of my own. Most importantly, I got to use pointed-tip scissors, and not the blunt-tipped scissors of third grade. As I could tell, fourth grade was a big event, and what made it bigger was that I was in a new school, and I got to ride the bus! What more could a nine-year-old ask out of life. I had new shoes, a new school, and new school transportation. I was ready for anything, or so I thought.

The day I had so anxiously been awaiting had finally come, and I woke up extra early because I did not want anything to go wrong. I boarded the bus and greeted friends from the previous school year and made new friends. My day had started on the right track. I entered my new classroom and saw a few familiar faces, but not many. I looked for the desk with my name on it, and when I found it, I quietly sat down. It was five minutes before the bell rang that it happened. Jerome, the class bully, sneered and shriveled up his face as if in utter disgust while pointing at my nice new white shoes and said, "She's wearing Pro Wings!" In a flash everyone in class turned around to look at my $9.99 special Payless Shoe Source shoes. I looked down as well to see if I had stepped on anything or if I had laced them wrong, but everything was perfect. Then, when he said it again, I noticed that Pro Wings was what the logo on the side of my shoe said. I didn't understand what the fuss was about. When I heard murmurs of "cheap shoes . . . eew, Pro Wings," I realized that wearing Pro Wings was not "acceptable." I looked around at the people who had pointed and laughed to see what kind of shoes they were wearing. Sure enough, they were wearing Nike, Fila, Reebok, L.A. Gear, British Knights, and all other kinds of expensive shoes.

A great feeling or shame and embarrassment came over me because the children whose families had more money were mocking my poverty, and those who were also wearing Pro Wings looked away as if fearful that their $9.99 special Pro Wings would be discovered and would be the new center of attention. For the first time in my life, I felt like an outcast and felt the full weight of my low socio-economic condition over my head. I waited to see when the novelty of my Pro Wing shoes was going to wear off, but it did not. I spent the rest of the fourth grade hiding my shoes under my chair or covering them with my sweater. I did not know I was poor until that day in the fourth grade.

As time progressed, I got over the shoe incident and eventually went on to wear Nike shoes. I realized, though, that whether I was wearing Nike or Pro Wing shoes did not matter because, regardless of that, I was the same person. I came to terms with the fact that I didn't have as much money as others, but that did not mean that I was less than a person. The fact that our society is extremely materialistic was the culprit of my suffering in the fourth grade. Although at the time of the incident I felt my world had been destroyed, time helped heal the self-esteem of the poor and alienated nine-year-old who sat in class hiding her $9.99 special Pro Wings.