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My alarm clock bounced off the walls of my room and the sound surged through my head like a tsunami. Ughhhhh. Twenty minutes later, my two little brothers, Roberto and Juan, pried my eyes wide open. I groggily got out of bed and every motion seemed as if it was in slow motion. It was the morning of September first, 1986; my first day of junior year at Nanuet High School. My name is Ana and I am a first-generation Cuban-American. Papá, Mamá, and Abuela were all born and raised in Cuba. They came to America for a better life and to escape Castro. Anyway, the morning of my first day of junior year, I put on a baby pink dress that I found in the back of my closet. It wasn’t as nice as what most of the other girls at school wore; but I knew that my parents worked day and night to provide for me and my brothers, so I was grateful for it. After getting dressed and eating breakfast, I set out for school with the hope that things would be different this year.
Boy was I wrong to hope for such a thing. I hoped that my parents would let up on me, but they were still controlling, maybe even more so than last year. They were Castro and I was Cuba. I was not allowed to have a life outside of school. I could not hang out with my friends, have sleepovers, go on dates, or participate in after school activities or clubs. Papá and Mamá believed that these are improper things for a Cuban girl to do. I had a stinging sensation in my heart whenever I heard my friends make plans without me, and I would always have to make excuses for why I could not come. I usually said something like: “*cough *cough You guys I think I’m coming down with something. I think I have to skip tonight. Sorry… ” It was pathetic. My friends were so nice though. They always said, “Don’t have a cow; we’ll all get together another time.” This just made me feel worse about declining their offer.
Instead of hanging out with my friends, I had to go straight home every day after school and cook, clean, and watch my brothers. Abuela repeatedly told me, “It is the duty of a proper Cuban Young lady to help her mother around the house.” I couldn't believe how she could say such a thing! I was stuck at home, under my parents harsh control while my brothers could do whatever they wanted to do. Roberto is one year younger than me and Juan is three years younger. Still, they were allowed to hang out with their friends and date. Roberto did not even have a curfew and came back very late at night. It was all so unfair! I was stuck in the confines in the prison that was our house, while my brothers were able to roam free. Also, although it is important to help your parents, girls should be able to pursue their passions too. I’ve never participated in any sport or extracurricular activity, so I never knew what I am passionate about. All that I knew was I was passionate about school and learning. It was a gateway to being able to support myself and mold my future. It was all that I had…
At the beginning of October, posters for the homecoming dance were put up all around my school. This year, I mustered up the courage to ask my parents if I could go. I was completely confident that they would agree because it was at the school, teachers were going to chaperone, and I was just going with four of my closest girlfriends. I was thrilled! My friends Catherine, Heather, Lisa, Michelle and I could not stop enthusiastically chattering about it during lunch.
“How are we getting there?!” Michelle asked
“I’ll drive,” Catherine said.
“You guys, I found the most gorgeous black dress!” Heather exclaimed.
“I’m wearing a green one!” Lisa said.
“I’m wearing a red one,” I added. I could not afford to buy a new dress, but Mamá is an amazing seamstress and can make one that could pass as store-bought.
When I brought up the dance to my parents, they immediately shut it down. “No, no way in hell,” Papá said.
“Why would you want to go to such a ridiculous and useless thing?” Mamá asked.
“Because it’s part of the proper high school experience, and I haven’t gone yet,” I said.
“Our answer is no to the dance. There will be boys there, and you won’t be supervised,” They both said.
“I will be supervised by the teachers chaperoning. Sure, boys will probably be at the dance, but I’m just going with some of my girlfriends,” I explained.
“I don’t trust the boys around you and I bet that the teachers will do a crappy job of supervising you guys,”
“Please Papá… Please let me go. I’m begging you. I want to know what it’s like to go to a high school dance at least once in my life. please, please pease!”
“NO! And if you open your mouth to talk about this one more time, You’ll be grounded until the new year.” Papá’s face was bright red, and a vein protruded from his forehead. I could see Mamá cowering in the corner. I fled to my room, tears searing me as they rolled down my face. The night of the dance, I was home alone, watching my favorite movie, The Breakfast Club, wondering what it would be like to have the same opportunities and choices as a regular teenager.
Later on that month, my parents got a letter in the mail that would later on affect my relationship with them. It was a letter that my school sent about the SAT. “What is this about?” Papá asked.
“It’s just informing you guys that I have to take my SAT on November third,” I said.
“And why are you taking it?”
“So I can receive a higher education, which will help me build a future for myself.”
“I do not see the use of taking that test,” Abuela said. “There is no use of higher education for Latina women because they work in the household.”
“But I don’t want to just work in the household. I want to get a job and make something of myself,” I said. Papá, Mamá, and Abuela’s mouths were all hanging open.
“You’re not taking the damn test,” Papá said.
“Yes I am!” I exclaimed.
“You can go take the test, but if you do, you are turning your back on your culture and on us. We would never be able to forgive you for that.” This was honestly one of the hardest decisions in my life. If I took the SAT, I would be going against my family and their beliefs, and there was a huge possibility that they would not forgive me. On the other hand, If I did not take the SAT, I would not be able to go through with my dreams. I’d be stuck working in the household. I’d be miserable and have no purpose in life. I couldn’t have that happen. The day of the exam, I snuck out of the house while Mamá and Papá were in the kitchen cooking and Abuela was watching her telenovelas. I quietly tiptoed out the door and then bolted to the car. My heart was beating out of my chest and a wave of adrenaline rushed through my body. I started the car and sped to my school. This decision would change the course of my life.
Ultimately, taking the SAT was the right decision. Although Papá, Mamá and Abuela were all furious with me, they eventually realized that it was the best thing for me. It took a while, but I’m glad that it happened. I actually did really well on the SAT; I got a 1545. I was stuck at home all the time, so I had nothing better to do than study. At the beginning of Senior year, I received early acceptance to Columbia University, and ended up going there for undergrad. I am now a lawyer in a successful law firm. I am doing what I love and can support myself and my family. My parents said that if I took the SAT and went to college, I would be turning my back and giving up my culture. I have learned that their statement is not true. I still am and always will be Hispanic; I just wanted the freedom to choose my own future and role in society.