By Melanie I. Hernandez
Your innocence will be completely lost by the time you enter high school. You cannot change this, so just let it happen. Your surroundings will alter, but you will not learn from them. Out of fear, you will let these surroundings manipulate you into conforming. This will haunt you into your early twenties, while you continue to suffer and live with regret. This letter, if you take it into consideration while you are now searching for answers, will help you learn from your current circumstances so that you can understand and accept who you are. By the time you are 26, you could already have your life together, instead of still struggling to correct the mistakes of the past. Listen for our sake!
Yes, you are different. People, especially your peers, do not understand different, and not only do they not understand it, they are afraid of it. When an animal, as we are, is approached by any danger, which they think you are, their natural fight-or-flight instinct comes into play. You have already experienced this for yourself, just this week, when the boy sitting next to you made a racist remark and you decided on “flight” by cowering in silence with your head down. The others, like that boy, are more attuned to the “fight” instinct. This is because of the culture they were brought up in. Although you have lived in the same neighborhood as them for most of your life, as you’ve come to realize, you were sheltered. You didn’t even attend the same schools. While they were fist-fighting in Kindergarten, you were sneaking Barbie dolls in your bookbag so that you could play with them after school at your babysitter’s house. You know this, but you do not use it to your advantage. Just because you do not know how to trigger your “fight” reflex doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that you won’t be eventually forced to use it.
Fighting is painful in all circumstances, win or lose. It hurts physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but you have already learned that running away can be just as “detrimental.” (Look up this word, it will be useful for you in this time!) You have come into this school full of children your age who look at you as something they want and fear. You know that you are neither of those things yourself, but they cast you out immediately. You know who you are. Ethnically, you are three-quarters Puerto Rican, one-quarter Italian. Socially, you are shy, introverted, but really cool once people get to know you. Economically, you are much poorer than your peers, even though they treat you as the opposite based on your skin tone. Emotionally, you want so badly to be accepted and to make friends. Academically, you are highly intelligent, but you are aware that this is also something your peers dislike. All of these things make up who you are. Listen to me now: these attributes are perfectly you, so live up to them fully and make no apologies.
Ask your uncles and father to show you how to fight. You will try to run away as much as you can, but a fight will ultimately come knocking at your door---literally. Fight, because that’s what people do. Fight, because that is what you must do to remain true to yourself. The next time someone makes a “white girl” remark, open your mouth and tell them, “I am Puerto Rican!” The next time those girls try to bully you, stand up to them no matter the consequences. When the friendly Jamaican girls befriend you, cherish every moment and don’t let them go because they are your real friends. When the girls who live in your building, who also go to the same school as you, try to convert you into their “pet,” don’t let them.
I know you think the girls in your building are your friends, but friends don’t hurt you. Friends don’t bully you. Friends don’t steal your stuff. Friends don’t steal your crushes. Friends don’t try to force you into sex with older men. Friends don’t force you to skip school. Friends don’t force you to do drugs. Friends don’t use racial commentary to hurt you. Friends don’t bring you down. Friends raise you up.
Your friends are Simone, Tamika, Angelica, Jailyn, Tattiana, George, Joseph, Calixto, Matthew, and Lizette. That is a substantial number of peers who love and support you. Keep these people close and you will continue to rise above the hate around you, and excel as that person you made a list to become. Don’t let this list be full of lost goals. Stick to the plan. There will still be many roadblocks on the way. Just take each one as a lesson you need to keep moving forward.