You are eight years old and have no idea what is going on. You know you are going somewhere and that it's for the best. At least, that's what it seemed like at the going-away party. They told you that you are headed to a place where the electricity never goes out. You are excited as you give your dad one last kiss. You are going to New York City. Step into a world that you only imagined. No matter how many times you ask your mother to take you back to that place you called home she always says “No.” Even if you yell, “Odio este lugar, me volvere loca.” You start school two weeks later. Walk into the third-grade classroom. When they ask you your name, proclaim, “No speak English.” Pray to God they don't roll over laughing. Back home you were constantly showered with compliments about how light your skin is. Now you look like burned meat among a plate of delicacies. It's hard to be someone who sticks out like a sore thumb. You are the only Hispanic in your third-grade class, in a school where the population is 90 percent Polish. Immediately rush to a quiet corner. Say nothing. A wrong pronunciation can lead to hours of mockery. Rip out your heart and replace it with an ice cube, small and cold. Pay no mind to the rude comments. They don't realize that you can understand a language before you speak it. Maybe you can speak it, but are afraid of being ridiculed. Hold back tears as the “pretty” blond girl with blue eyes asks, “Why does your hair grow like that?” Discover that the building that looks like a house and is located a block away from school isn't really a house. It's a library. Realize as you walk in that it is the only place that has felt like home in months. Discover your addiction to the smell of books. When you read in silence nobody makes fun of you. Fill your mind with knowledge as you turn the last page of Nancy Drew. Wish you were in Narnia or attended Hogwarts. After months of being called “Hey You” by the light-skinned people, finally proclaim, “My name is not Hey You, my name is Oelania.” Stand in silence and observe as they laugh at your name. Four months ago you would have cried but now, no te importa. Your efforts will get you transferred to the advanced fifth-grade class. When the teachers say you have a natural talent, say “Thank you” in English. The knowledge you gained from books will take your hand and lead you from the empty corner to the top of the world. Get to high school and be recommended for AP Composition. In that class you will get an assignment. That assignment will be an essay. You will write that essay, in English.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.