This young woman’s identity is a beautiful mess. She is a deaf artist, half Puerto Rican woman with a cochlear implant. She experienced her parents’ divorce at a young age and was raised by her mother. She visited her low-income family on weekends and spent the rest of the week in her middle-class home. She has tasted a variety of cultures: deaf, Puerto Rican, and many others. She has experienced myriad forms of direct and indirect discrimination: racism, sexism, and being deaf has brought a whole menu of problems to her table. She is also an artist and a storyteller, throwing herself into her passions, painting stories from her mind. She has struggled with her cochlear implant identity, a sub-identity of deaf culture, trapped on the bridge between the two worlds of the deaf and hearing communities. She is a feminist, always seeing a future where both genders can be equal. This description of a young woman encapsulates me. This is what and who I am. This is my story.
This fall, “Percentage,” a collection of short plays I wrote with a friend, was performed at the Rochester Fringe Festival in my home city. This work explores bullying through different experiences by different people – a bystander, a bullying victim, and the grieving friend of a suicide victim. I also designed a poster for the play, and the cover has a person holding his head in hands with a percent overhead, his face is squinted in pain, and there are a multitude of insults in the background. I designed it this way because I wanted an emotional impact for people because bullying truly damages a person’s mind. My experiences push me to pursue art and storytelling. Art is my stress relief, my witness, and my comfort. It allows me to tell story after story through painting, drawing, and writing. My goal is to major in illustration so that I can create graphic novels that increase the inclusion of diverse people.
I remember when I went to my father’s apartment seeing lots of houses and apartments in poor condition and becoming fearful of the police because I was afraid they might arrest my father for no reason. In my life with my mother, I lived in a nice house and was well-fed and well-cared for. This showed me how the working class and middle class differ. I didn’t have to worry about money at my mother’s, while I did at my father’s.
I have been bullied for being deaf, different, smart, weird. I have experienced indirect discrimination when my Latino race was stereotyped as “rapists” by Donald Trump and my gender was considered worthless unless a woman was beautiful. I have experienced direct discrimination from both deaf and hearing people, ranging from getting my head bashed against an airplane window to being excluded because I wear a cochlear implant. Each of these made me heartier, smarter, and more understanding. It’s important that I take my experiences of discrimination and render them into stories and art because I want people to know that I was one of the victims too.
I also have learned different cultural identities. Some, like my Puerto Rican culture, are warm and endlessly loving, while others are not. In the deaf culture, a person with a cochlear implant is viewed as turning their back on the deaf culture. I want to be a bridge between deaf and hearing people because both worlds are important to me. This discrimination has negatively affected me, as I evolved from an optimistic little girl to a pessimistic and cynical young woman. In spite of that cynicism, I still feel a strong urge to portray those feelings and memories through art into a story that people can understand and emotionally connect with.
My goal is to become a better artist and writer in order to tell stories that can, I deeply hope, impact people’s lives. I want to finish my book and see it on the shelf, hold it in my hands, and smile at a dish well served.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.