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?
- 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?
- How can such a small incident impact a child to question the world around them, and change their perspectives on life?
Gurba, Myriam. Mean