Fight for Our Sake: A Letter to My Middle School Self

By Melanie I. Hernandez

 

Dear Melanie,

Photo courtesy of Melanie Hernandez.

Photo courtesy of Melanie 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.

Sincerely you,

Melanie H.

What I Would Tell My Younger Self

By Zayna Palmer

 

Zayna,

Photo courtesy of Zayna Palmer.

You are a smart girl, born and raised in the Bronx. It is fine that you keep many things to yourself and are an introvert, because it shows that you’re comfortable with your own company.

You are very beautiful, and you shouldn’t care about how others judge you based on the way you look. Let go of the negative comments that people have said about you throughout high school because they are irrelevant. You have the power to do many things because you are very talented and creative. You drew amazing things in your art notebook, and you create unique quotes which can inspire others. Walk with your head high and your shoulders back because confidence is everything. The world would love to see your lovely smile more often and not a sad face due to overthinking things that aren’t true, such as assuming you won’t pass that big exam or you will stutter when presenting a project. Just relax and breathe, you got this.

Things take time. Stop rushing and chasing people you don’t need because you waste your time that way, especially with the people who never cared about you to begin with. Chasing people has been one of your biggest regrets because you never got to realize who you truly are as a person and you would put all of your happiness on someone else, which led to you trapping yourself in your room and crying all night.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. God created you to be you, not her. Love yourself and keep your family first, because they’ve never let you down, not once. You often put friends before family, which resulted in guilt.

You’ve picked yourself back up and realized that family is all that you have and you wouldn’t trade it for anything.

In order to be great, you have to overcome the most difficult challenges, such as doing things you’ve never done. I’m proud of you because you’ve learned to go out there and do things on your own without depending on anyone else, such as going to the Metropolitan Museum for a school project. It’s great to do things on your own because it shows that you are independent. Speak up and say how you feel, otherwise no one else will know. Your voice always counts so don’t hide it, let someone know what’s bothering you and why you stayed in the house all day and didn’t want to come out. Dance to the rhythm of your own drum and stay in your lane, just like your mom always told

you. Forgive and move on, because holding grudges is the same thing as holding anger. You have a whole life ahead of you, so do what makes you happy whether it be dancing, singing in the shower, or even playing dress up. Your most meaningful lesson was to grow and become the mature adult that you are now. Look at you, in college and aiming for the top. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Most importantly, believe that you serve an extraordinary God who is greater than all things.

Sincerely,

Zayna Palmer

A Letter to a Naïve Boy

By Jarol Rivera-Diaz 

 

Dear Jarol,

Photo courtesy of Jarol Rivera-Diaz.

Hola! Rather, Hello. I am me, yourself. A new and older you, to be exact. You might not be able to read this letter just yet. You are still seventeen, naïve, and monolingual. Do not worry, you will learn how to read and write in English in six months. Your thick accent might get in the way sometimes; do not let the smirks and laughs discourage you. In the end, you will still manage to lead discussions in class. Yes, you will become a college student, but no, you will not choose pre-med as mom wanted.

Your career choice, you ask? Anthropology. Why? Because you wanted answers. To what? A simple conundrum. You will discover that you can board a plane and change your race.

On August 25, 2012, you will fly in a plane for the first time. Do not be anxious. There will be lots of turbulence. The food will be nonexistent, and your brother will rest his head on your shoulder. Do not push him away. You will drift apart from each other eventually. Your schedules won’t match and eventually you will see each other only at night.

You will miss your friends immensely. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to say your goodbyes. Your high school graduation date will be postponed a whole week, the same day you are moving to America. Do not promise them you will meet them again. You will not. Forget them, move on with your life. They will ignore your texts. When K. and A. give you the cold shoulder and make fun of your accent, do not mind them. They’ll leave your church community by the end of the year .The biggest lesson you will learn in your twenties is that relationships are a two-way street.

While filling out your school application, do not choose “Latino” as your racial/ethnic background. Through phone calls and official papers your Spanish accent and Spanish- sounding, hyphenated last name might reveal you as Latino; your looks won’t match the preconceived image of a young Latino man in the U.S. The following winter, while you work as a cashier at McDonald’s, do not help translate for Spanish speakers. They will thank you by raising their eyebrows and telling you, “you don’t look Latino; how can you speak Spanish?” Tell them you used Rosetta Stone for beginners. They won’t believe if you tell them you are a native speaker, even though you are far more literate and fluent.

Speaking of disbelief, when your classmates at choir demand you to speak Spanish to prove your Latinness, don’t do it. You have nothing to prove. Brazilians and Haitians are both Latinos and neither speak Spanish as a first language. Neither do your Hispanic classmates.  Don’t get tired of introducing yourself as an Afro-Latino; Black and Hispanic are not mutually exclusive. People’s ignorance will amaze you. At first you will think it is not your job to educate them. It kind of is. Don’t overreact when the white girl in your writing intensive class, in your sophomore year, asks you “What kind of drink is ‘Afro-Latino?’”  She has honestly never heard that word before. Neither have your fellow Black Latino friends. When your friend Fridda gets mad because you called her Black, do not apologize. She is blacker than you, for God’s sake. She will tell you she is a mulatto, mixed person like the rest of your countrymen. Her swarthy looks, broad nose, and kinky hair are the result of her French and African ancestry, she’ll say. Do not try to convince other Dominicans they are Black. You will lose friends if you do, Fridda included. Dominicans still believe in a utopian racial democracy where the small white oligarchy controls everything.

Don’t be jealous of your brother because of his lighter skin and bright hazel eyes. Caucasian blood is not a magical tonic that grants beauty. Do not despise your hair. When Grandma tells you to get a buzz cut to look presentable, do not listen. You got your coiled, kinky hair from her.  Do no try to accommodate others, not even your family. Hug mom a lot more; she will present bipolar tendencies as time goes by. She did not prefer your brother over you, by the way. He just needed more attention and help with school work than you did. More importantly, love yourself more. There is nothing wrong with your body. I lied. There is. You will develop a binge eating disorder by 21. You still have it. Do worry about your mental health. Lastly, do not worry about your looks; melanin is just a natural protection against sun, and does not define your character.

Love,

You (me)

 

A Letter to My Younger Self

By Margarete Rodriguez 

13- or 14-year-old Margarete at Build-A-Bear Workshop for her sister’s birthday and present day Margarete working at the Lehman Counseling Center. Photos courtesy of Margarete Rodriguez.

Dear young Margarete,

You will become the person you never thought you could be: confident, strong-willed, outgoing, magnificent, and fearless. You will actually be happy, to the point where you randomly smile to yourself in gratitude.

You will get tattoos even though you always swore to yourself that your body would be an empty canvas. You won’t believe this, but there will come a day when you can look yourself in the mirror and say, “you’re beautiful.” Fair warning---things will get ugly before this happens and you won’t really learn to say nice things about yourself, with full confidence, until after high school.

A seemingly nice boy with a mohawk will try to mold you into someone you’re not: quiet, reserved and apologetic, but you won’t let that happen. You truly have a mind of your own and only you know what you want out of your life. I would tell you to avoid him entirely, but he actually helped you learn a lot about yourself and the things you are willing to accept and REJECT from people and relationships. So, if you want to turn out to be the dope individual you read about in that first paragraph, you’re going to have to bite the bullet.

The good news is, your resilience is unparalleled and your heart, and mind, will guide you to all the right places. So, know when to walk away from things that aren’t meant for you, even when they tug at you to stay. There’s a power in doing just that. Your gut will tell you when it’s time; you only need the courage to follow it.

From time to time you will feel isolated and alone, partly because you put yourself there. Even I do that sometimes, but we know damned well that is far from the case. Feel whatever you have to feel, just don’t keep yourself in that bubble for too long. If you turn around you’ll see a sea of strong women, and a few reliable guys too. Don’t take them for granted. We both know how hard it is to make friends.

Keep your chin up, kiddo. You will be where you are meant to be.