Middle School Nationalism

My district has some really complicated zoning. My middle school was split up into three high schools, and, as a result, majority of my friends were separated to different schools after we graduated from middle school. In fact, middle school graduation was a very emotional ordeal realizing that we would have to experience high school without some of our closest friends.

Despite having lived in the same area my entire life, I was suddenly thrust into high school knowing barely anyone. My high school was made largely of one specific middle school which I’ll call Camp Town, which had been the rival of my middle school. Most of the kids coming from Camp Town had established friend groups and known each other going into high school.

This put in me in a difficult position. Most of my friends went to different high schools, and, naturally, I wanted friends at my own high school. So I had to figure out how to break into the Camp Town friendships.

Now it shouldn’t be a big deal what middle school we went to. After all, my middle school and Camp Town literally had the exact same layout and were at their core the exact same experience. But somehow, it was a really big deal.

I ended up finding a group of friends freshman year (all Campies), listening and nodding as they talked about friends from middle school I’d never met and pretending I had been there with all their inside jokes. To a larger extent, I ended up sacrificing my “middle school heritage” to assimilate with the Campies. Who I was at my own middle school became irrelevant to the conversation

Sophomore year I managed to infiltrate a tight-knit group of friends who had been together since elementary school (which seemed like an eternity). But there were certain things that still set me apart. They insisted their group chat was a Camp Town group chat. They would go back to Camp Town every so often. And by nature, all the Campies lived closer together leading to a certain form of geographical isolation.

And of course we can’t forget the bashing of my middle school, which made up the minority of the population. It was all fun and games, of course, but deep down the Campies were at the top and you just needed to join the Campies. When I would meet up with my middle school friends, we would reminisce on the “good times” and drag Camp Town. My mom would ask me why I didn’t hang out with the few middle school friends I had who went to my high school, but what she didn’t realize was all of those middle school friends had long renounced their middle school identities and assimilated into the landscape painted by the Campies.

Now of course, in the big picture, all of this middle school stuff is irrelevant. Feeling left out is something every teenager has faced based on a number of reasons. And I’m sure the experience of being a new student is far worse. But at the end of the day, our separation on the basis of middle school raises a powerful question: why are we so quick to divide ourselves based on our experiences? Its our experiences who create who we are, so perhaps we have more in common personality-wise with those who have a similar history to us. It’s easy to understand why Campies were friends with Campies- they had gone to school together through middle school. But why was their the necessity to defines one identity to that experience? Why was it necessary to Campies only group chats? Why was it necessary to entirely erase the other existing experience?

Its long been recognized that humans recognize those unlike them as “others”, but perhaps this otherness is based less off of physical things, but rather experience. Identity organizations, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, African Students Association, Gay Straight Alliance, Young Democrats, meet to discuss their shared experience more than anything. I can rant to another woman about micro-aggression at work. I can joke with another Bengali about how we always eat before we go to dinner parties. I am naturally more inclined to those I feel I can relate with. But when I was the only girl on my hockey team, I would accept the micro-aggression and try to minimize the differences in my woman identity. In rooms where I was the only Indian, I would turn on my white-side.

We divide ourselves on the basis of experience, but, at the end of the day, our experience overlaps in so many places. My Campie friends and I both have boy problems that we’ll stay up all night dissecting every text. My hockey team and I would bond at team dinners pouring salt into our goalies water when he wasn’t looking. While we have different identities that make it easier to relate, we intersect in so many places at the end of the day. Within our differences, we can still find commonalities

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