That summer of 2009 passed by and seemed to skip me entirely. In June I thought that I was going to live with my uncle in LA. In July I was supposed to be in San Bernardino. By August it seemed like my future, at least for the next year, was getting clearer. I was to stay with my uncle and aunt in Riverside, CA. I began school August 19th and the school year had started a week ago, so naturally, I was fresh meat being dropped off into a teenage prison. It is very interesting to realize how with time, and as your world expands, you tend to forget how it really was to feel sixteen. This is definitely a good thing. It is a sign of change and proof of how you have grownup.
However, I was sixteen. I didn’t speak a world of English and I was being dropped off at an American high school. As soon as I go up to the gate, I was stopped and I started to feel like there was a pattern, deja vu. Walls everywhere, protecting the ones inside. Borders and officials that question you on and off. Deciding if you belong there, if you are dangerous, or if you should go through another security screening. If there is something slightly different about yourself, all of a sudden you are deemed a threat.
The security guard is trying to tell me something but I do not understand a word. So, I just hand him the paper that says that I am supposed to be there; but it’s not good enough. He keeps on asking me questions and finally makes me sign in and I am on my way to the office.
I open the office door and go up to the desk, the indifferent secretary is on her computer. Without even looking at me she reaches to me as if I need to show some kind of identification in order for her to know if she absolutely needs to deal with me or not. I hand her the paper and she points to a chair, throughout the whole encounter she did not look at me, still looking at the screen; oblivious to my pale face. I sit on the chair as I am trying to gather something coherent in my mind. The few words of English I know, the few instructions given to me….anything, but all I could hear was a dead sound. Just a constant beep, as if a heart had just stopped and was not coming back to life ever again. All of a sudden, through the cloudiness, I hear:
“Mijo! Hi, soy Ms Placencia. I’m your counselor, come into my office, siéntate please”
I look up to her as I sit down and I feel like my heart is beating again. Someone else speaks Spanish, I have an ally! She looks at me as she tries to sort papers and gives me a smile as she says, “It’s ok mijo, tu tranquilo!” She starts explaining to me the situation and I’m told I will have to do junior year, senior year and then another year to make up all my credits and graduate. Right away I ask, is there any other way? I told her I would like to graduate on schedule; I have always been one of the best in my classes and repeating a year is not an option in México… at least, it was never in my family. So, she tells me the only other option is that I will have to go to night school, right away I agree.
She then proceeded to tell me that for the next two years I will probably spend 12 hours of my day in classes, probably two hours on transporting myself from one place to the next, at least another two hours doing homework, and the other eight hopefully are enough to sleep, shower and eat; I was not worried. “I signed up for this”, I tell myself. “You knew this was not going to be easy”, so I said outloud, “That’s ok.” She hands me my schedule and has an assistant take me to my new class room.
I go in and it is my worst nightmare. It’s a lab so everyone is on tables in groups of four and the teacher interrupts the class to introduce me and shows me where to sit. He gives me instructions on what to do. I nod making sure he thought I understand although I didn’t actually catch a word of what he just finished telling me. I open the book in front of me and feel like I want this dark mass to jump from the book and take me out of my misery. Sadly, there was no dark mass coming to my rescue. As I look up I have a sense of relief. Across from me there is a familiar face. A girl that looks as if I have already met, features on her face that seem familiar. I think to myself, if the counselor speaks Spanish maybe she does too, so I smile and say hi, but she quickly looks down and ignores me.
Pretty soon it became obvious to the two guys on the table that I was completely lost and they graciously came to the rescue. As the African American kid told me in broken Spanish to do the assignment, the Chinese kid next to me looked up the right page on the book in front of me and handed me color pencils. I was confused about the assignment, which was a volcano that looks like it needed to be colored. Even though I was simply handed coloring pencils, I was completely relieved by the aid that the two strangers had just given me.
After assessing everyone else, it seemed like the assignment was indeed to color a volcano. I felt lost because I was supposed to be in junior year of high school. I remember building a volcano and learning about the different layers in elementary school. I remember doing mathematical equations on how chemical elements reacted in middle school and all of a sudden here I was coloring a volcano in high school.
As the days passed I was starting to get a feel of this new school and then one day in lab class I heard the girl with the familiar face across me speaking broken Spanish to her friend on the other table and I am heart broken, she did speak Spanish and she did not help me… I was very confused. How can someone deny helping when they have all the means to?! In this point in my life I believe I was too young to understand the complexity of being Mexican American, on her part or on mine.
The two years of high school were not easy at all, I felt like I had to work three times harder than my fellow classmates but, through challenge and difficulty we build character. I was lucky enough to find really good friends outside of high school that supported me and helped me all the way to graduation.
When I was in Mexico I never wanted to be called a gringo, I hated it. I didn’t know anything about this foreigner country and I didn’t consider myself to be a part of it. It wasn’t until I came to the US that I started to understand that as humans we let everyone else tell us what we are, who we need to love, and what our own dreams should be. This is what happens to Mexican Americans that have always lived in the states and their parents are Mexican. They are drilled in their heads since they are little that they are not fully from this land, but they have never been to that foreigner country on the other side of the wall so they don’t want anything to do with it. Just as much I didn’t want to be American.
I have spent precisely half of my life in Mexico and half of it in the USA. I go back and forth, but I also spent a lot of time traveling to other countries. There is a piece of my heart in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Poland, Italy and Spain. I have not been lucky, rather I have taken every great opportunity to come my way and I let go of everything easily making it possible for me to live and work in places like Hawaii, Miami, New York and Colorado… what I am trying to say is:
“Please DO NOT let anyone and I mean anyone even your doubtful self dictate who you are, who are you supposed to love, or which dreams are right for you!“
I am the product of immigrant parents trying to search for a better life. If you asked me which flag makes my heart beat out of my chest I will say the Mexican flag. Do I miss Mexico? Yes, I do but, sacrifices have to be made to live the life you want. I do not belong here or there. I belong to the world, to my own present. I belong to the opportunity to be exactly who I want to be in this moment! I know who I am, and that’s enough for me. Do you know who you are?
By Cristian Hernandez