Mean. Does it make you feel better? Are you stronger now?

Myriam Gurba’s memoir, Mean, focuses on the childhood and adolescent years of Gurba’s life, where she has to deal with growing up in California as a mixed-raced Chicana surrounded by a population of white people, and being queer. Gurba faces a lot of racism and misogyny throughout her teenage years and over the course of learns how to “be mean”.

“Being mean” is something that had heavily impacted Gurba growing up. She was always treated differently due to her race whether it was in School or in her community. 

She always knew she was Mexican, but she didn’t think she was much different from other people til people started referring to her as a “Mexican”. This can be seen in the beginning of the novel when Myriam has with Emily’s family while her mother has complications giving birth. Myriam asks Emily’s mother what they’re having for dinner and she answers with, “Since you’re visiting, Mexican.” (5)

Myriam thinks that her mom will cook up a storm of all of these traditional delicious Mexican cousine meals, whilst instead she makes a Mexican casserole out of basic American ingredients.

This small example demonstrates how at such a young age, Myriam is already facing racism, and she doesn’t know how to react. On the next page she even adds “There was nothing Mexican about it.” (6)

Americans today even stereotype Mexican cousine to be Taco Bell, however, for a child at a young age to subjected to being called “a Mexican” and making a half-fast Mexican-American meal because that is someone’s ethnicity is extremely damaging to any child.  

This incident sparked and inspired Myriam to become a stronger person and fight back against this racism with the strength she gained from being mean.

At an early age, Gurba learned that it was ok to be mean. It was how she was going to survive in this world.

She learned from this incident that there is evil in this world, and the only way to truly fight back is to treat people the same way they treat you… only 10x harder.

In the next short story from her memoir, The Problem of Evil, Gurba asks her father “Why does evil exist?”, and he answers with “Myriam, think of how boring life would be if nothing bad ever happened?” (16)

Although this probably wasn’t Myriam’s father’s intentions, these words gave her permission to be mean. Gurba expresses on the next page how “we act mean to defend ourselves”, and later exclaims how “It’s best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.” (17)

One incident and the people around us affect us act a young age. If it wasn’t for the people that surrounded Myriam, she wouldn’t have been exposed to racism at such a young age, and I don’t think she would’ve been able to know how to stand up for herself as well as others, if she didn’t have this experience.

However, being mean changed Myriam at a young age, and in many ways led her to be act cruel and senseless towards other people. 

It seemed as if she was looking for a sort of vengeance towards the white people who had wronged her in the past and present. An example of this can be seen, when she exclaims, “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation. Like the literacy test given to black folks in the American South before the Voting Rights Act passed.” (15)

Despite the fact that Gurba had been wronged and treated poorly by those around her, she was acting cruel towards other people who hadn’t wronged her. 

She wasn’t defending herself or anyone else.

So what fun could she have really had?

Discusson Questions:

  1. Do you think if Myriam had lived in another city or state, she would’ve had a different childhood experience? Do you think she would still be mean?
  2. How can such a small incident impact a child to question the world around them, and change their perspectives on life? 

Work cited:

Gurba, Myriam. Mean

8 Replies to “Mean. Does it make you feel better? Are you stronger now?”

  1. Hi Kristy! With your blog post, I liked how you describe Myriam’s view on being mean. Through her childhood, she experiences various of events that lead her to believe that being mean is ok. To answer your first discussion question, I feel that instead of thinking of a new location we should be thinking about a different time period. Back in the 90s, when the book was taken place, people were able to get away with saying rude comments to others. Sure, it’s still negative in 2019, but people are becoming more aware about different cultures and are trying to say less hurtful comments to others. Also, with the question, I believe it just depends on the environment and the people that live in that setting and we could never know if would become mean or live a normal childhood. In the end, I believe that if people treat each other with respect and kindness, no one would be hurting and become mean to another.

  2. Hey Kristy, I agree with how you said Myriam acted mean as a coping mechanism and has a way of survival. When Emily asked to play with her and is bluntly denied, she describes it as “Tears spilled down her cheeks. They landed on her homemade dress. “Eat your lip gloss,” I told her” (7). Here is another example that supports what you introduced. She is acting mean and blunt because that is all she knows and believes it is a way to survive in this cruel world.

  3. Hey Kristy! I really liked your analysis of Gurba’s reasonings of being mean. To answer your second discussion question, it is quite easy for children to be impacted by our world. Though they can be small, incidents such as Myriam and other girls being called Mexican in class screws with Myriam’s perspective of the world. When the teacher says, ” Apologize for making them cry,”(20) after Myriam calls these girls racists, it now shows young Myriam that she is at fault for speaking up, and that the girls calling her mean names did no wrong. From these small incidences, Myriam is slowly learning to be mean in our world, which then gives her a more negative perspective of life as well.

  4. Hey Kristy, I really liked your blog post. In response to your first question, I do think that living in a different city or state would have had an impact on her. I think that where she went to school and how she was made fun of for being Mexican had a huge impact on her and being mean. I also think she wouldn’t be so mean if she had a different childhood, because I think her being mean was a coping mechanism. Gruba shows that childhood had an impact on her when she says “Montessori school ruined me for normal school and life in general” (12). To also show how being mean was a coping mechanism, Gruba states “we act mean to defend ourselves from boredom… we act mean to defend our clubs… we act mean because we like to laugh” (17). This quote gives the reader an insight into why Gruba was mean and it was impacted on where and how she grew up.

  5. Hey Kristy,
    I like how you start off by talking about how the experiences that Myriam faced shaped who she is today. By Emily’s mom telling Myriam that they were going to have Mexican food because she was there and then just making a casserole it shows how she had to face racist microaggression. I think that even if Myriam lived in a different city she would still face the same experiences and still be mean. This is because no matter where she would decide to move to in the united states, people would still stereotype her because she is Mexican. When Myriam was getting bullied, and the teacher said: “apologiez for making them cry,” (20), it showed no matter what she did, people would always be mean to her. For this reason, she believes she has to mean to other people.

  6. Hey Kristy! I liked how you talked about the fact that Myriam Gurba gained strength by being mean. I totally see what you mean by this. Growing up, Gurba had a lot of experiences that forced her to act in a way that isn’t necessarily considered “polite”. She did this as a defense mechanism. She saw that a lot of people around her treated her differently because of her heritage. Instead of being upset about it, she mocked them and made fun of how they perceived her. Also, she saw the horrible things that happened to women, such as Sophia. Additionally, she saw how boys could be rude to girls and how they create a hierarchy of power, even at such a young age. Because of all of this, she decided that she was going to be a mean person. I think this quote really sums it up: “It seemed like the nicer you were, especially during the Middle Ages, the meaner the world was,” (16). As a child, Gurba didn’t want to be hurt by anyone. She figured out that nice people are always treated worse. So to prevent the world from being mean to her, she decided to be mean. She did this to protect herself.

  7. Hi Kirsty! Great blog post. In regards to your first discussion question, I don’t think living in another city or state would have changed Gurba’s experience much. Gurba grew up in California which is typically seen as a diverse state with a lot of tolerance. But reading anecdotes from her life, this is not true, especially amongst children. Children often parrot what they hear other people say and don’t know how to censor themselves. Seeing as how Gurba was called a “wetback” by one of her classmates, I think that Gurba would have had similar experiences, if not worse ones, if she grew up in a different place.

  8. Do you think if Myriam had lived in another city or state, she would’ve had a different childhood experience? Do you think she would still be mean?

    Hi Kristy, I agree yes if Myriam would have lived in Mexico there would have been less racism. They might make fun of her because she is lesbian, but not because she is Mexican. If any other state, city or country, yes they it would be worse because she is Mexican and lesbian. Everywhere there will be racism. Everybody is different. If everybody was the same, it would be boring but there would be less racism. Since her dad approves that being mean is okay. Gurba would still be mean no matter where she goes. She definitely was upset when she raised her hand and said, “They call us wetbacks and tell us to go back to Mexico” (20). Gurba was not the only one targeted in this situation. All the Mexicans were targeted. She did the right thing by sticking up, but her teacher did not handle it correctly to make the Mexicans apologize to the white girls for making them cry. The teachers in this book does not handle racism and molester the way it should be handled. When Mr. Hand did not do anything while the kid put his hand in Gurba’s vagina in the middle of class. Gurba states, “ If molestation is a circle, a circle of life, then isn’t the hand of every molester working through the hand of every other molester?” (47) It is a circle one molester one girl will always molesting another girl. The lesson is not learned. The boy did not learn his lesson. The teacher was supposed to stop this situation, but he was embarrassed.

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