What would I tell my younger self? Would I have told her that everything was going to be fine? It’s ok to cry over a bad grade on a test? Younger me never thought I would make it to college, to be honest.
Growing up, I had a rather unique childhood, to say the least. My parents were fresh off the boat immigrants from Mexico, they had been living in the United States for a bit, but, they struggled with the English language. So, at home, we only ever embraced our Mexican heritage and language. When kindergarten came around, it was a cultural shock- I never imagined that the children around me spoke a different language than me. Children spoke English, on the other hand, I spoke Spanish, and no one understood me other than my English language learning, ELL, teachers who were taught Spanish.
Coming into school on the very first day of kindergarten, there was pressure put on my shoulders by my parents. Every time my brother or I didn’t perform well academically, we always heard the speech of “We came to the United States for a better life for you.” I was always pressured to meet the expectations set by parents and as a child, I was discouraged due to the language barrier. This barrier prevented me from making friends as a child, no one really understood me and I was glad to sit on the sidelines at recess or stay in the ELL classroom to get extra help from my teachers in the hopes that someday I could communicate my classmates. At this time, I came to doubt myself and shame my culture and my identity as a Mexican-American in the U.S. as the media further dehumanized Hispanic people as drug dealers or criminals – as a child, I wanted to defy that stereotype.
I developed my first passion in fourth grade, I developed a passion for reading once I picked up Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series. This passion for reading set up the foundation for everything for me, it set up my love of the arts – such as writing or drawing which would later come to define who I was and what I wanted to pursue as a career.
Graduation was a rather important day for me, it was the very day I dreamed of as a child. Every time I doubted myself whenever I was studying late at night, every time I focused on pursuing good grades. I always imagined myself walking across the stage and see the proud faces of my parents. I remembered their faces looking at my older brother as he walked across the stage and the two probably thought to themselves that “we did it.”
My parents never got the chance to walk across the stage on their graduation ceremony, they were high school dropouts in Mexico. I never will walk across my high school stage at my graduation ceremony either. However, these past few weeks – even though I won’t get to have my ‘glory’ moment, where my parents look proudly at me like they did for my brother when he walked across the stage.
I know that they’ll look proudly at me for once being their ‘problem’ child who didn’t do great at school to graduating with academic honors, their middle-school-aged daughter who they doubted would get into university instead earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, their daughter who once struggled to speak English is now an award-winning high school journalist. Me, who once resented my language and culture, now fully embrace my Mexican heritage and I continue to impress others with my abilities to speak both English and Spanish. Even if I won’t walk across the stage, I don’t need to walk across the stage to see the look of pride in my parent’s faces.
It was a rough 13 years, from West Englewood Elementary School to Northgate Middle School to Oak Park High School. My only word of advice is to pursue what you want to do; for years I tortured myself with doing things that I didn’t enjoy for the sake of approval.
When I finally gathered the courage to leave, it took me a while to find something I enjoyed. In my junior year, I looked at my school bulletin board and saw an opening for “The Northmen’s Log” in the hallway. I had never taken any journalism classes prior to this and I was relying on what I learned in AP lang. One teacher took a chance on me; and I joined the staff in my junior year. That chance is what led me to find my passion and an endless amount of opportunities that younger me would have never imagined as I sat through my ELL classes learning English, just to catch up with my classmates.
Take chances, no matter how early or how late you are, you’ll never know if you’re going to find your next big passion.