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I Can Move Through Worlds This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Sometimes I forget I am an adapted pariah, an outcast who fits everywhere but belongs nowhere. Which universe is the real one? Both realms seem surreal to me, for both shock me on a daily basis and both have remarkably redefined my perceptions of right and wrong. I have come to see that. And both realms, despite their vastly different teaching conventions, have together molded my socio-political identity.

I was born into a humble Mexican family 17 years ago in the city of East Palo Alto. It was, is, and always will be my hometown, the roots that hold together the blossoming flower that is my intellect, the soil that erects the stem of my philosophy. However, in spite of its native features, here is the problem since day one: I don't belong there. As a kid, I'd walk to school, hoping to greet a group of students as passionate and devoted to learning as I was. Instead, I'd see a bunch of pre-teens who let their impoverished state, their chauvinist community, and their misguided intuition identify them. They made the ghetto look like the ghetto, playing the Hispanic stereotype of baggy pants, knotted hair, long white T-shirts, and worst of all, malicious faces. They preached racism toward white people, homophobia, and a general intolerance for anyone who refused to conform to their lifestyle. I, however, strove to remain resilient, reminding myself that this environment was an interim step toward success and that the greatest leaders have always faced oppression, even from their kin. I remained resilient – until my family wasn't there to support me.

I love my family: they provide me with food, refuge, and constant concern for my needs. However, in my final year of middle school, my mother suffered a severe clinical depression. In other words, the sole person who brought me into this world, who always slapped a giant kiss on my greasy forehead when I came home from school, who always cooked my favorite dish of frijoladas, transformed virtually overnight. No longer did I wake up to smell pancakes sizzling on a cold morning. Now, I woke up with both the house and my psychological state an absolute mess, with my mother, for reasons I still cannot understand, sobbing silently in the corner. And so, when I confessed that I'd been beaten, bullied, and ostracized from our community, she met me with empty eyes.

I began to wear long white tees as well, and my accent was laced with an urban voice. But I realized that I couldn't just loiter around the front door; if I wanted my brothers to welcome me, I needed to demonstrate that I could be as hostile and as menacing as they were. All of this, frankly, I would have done, but I quickly realized that this life was not what I wanted; these clothes weren't mine.

Over time, I came to two important conclusions. First, everything you love, every piece of fabric you weave together into the quilt that is your life, can be ripped apart in a moment. Second, when a friend was killed in a drive-by shooting, I immediately realized that this is not my home; despite the fact that I grew up and live here, I cannot survive here. And so, without my mother's approval, I applied and was accepted to a private high school in privileged Atherton, a place I so wanted to belong.

Here, I feel relieved. Yes, I am angered when I hear a white boy making racist allusions, or when peers slander the very place I live, saying they'd “get shot instantly.” Yes, I am vexed at the sheer aristocracy that I immerse myself in every day, where teenagers take luxuries for granted and criticize perfectly good food, when I am simply thankful to no longer be eating moldy hot dogs for lunch. Yes, I am annoyed at the perfect academic/ athlete profile this school has strived to maintain. Yes, I am infuriated when students assert that poverty is a result of laziness and a lack of diligence, not unfortunate circumstance. And yes, I feel poorer when my peers know everything about colleges and financial resources to visit them, not to mention SAT coaches to increase their odds of admission, while I grew up in a place where high school dropouts are as common as iPhones are here. In short, I have jumped from one stereotypical extreme to another – from attending an inner-city school where being Mexican means that you are normal, to a suburban bubble where being Mexican means you probably clean toilets, serve food, or pick up trash.

However, despite the financial and racial isolation I face at this school, I am generally thankful for escaping my self-subjugating former community and joining a collection of bright minds in a place where pursuers of knowledge are not mocked but exalted. I have been challenged to manage my time wisely and to write a paper effectively, lessons I may not have learned otherwise. It has prepared me as the son of a man who never graduated from sixth grade, as the first member of my family who plans to attend college, as that young boy who tried so hard to fit in and make his peers laugh, to develop into a powerful, confident individual for whom neither of his worlds can take sole credit.

I cannot be a Mexican-American; I am either too Mexican for whites or too white for Mexicans. I cannot be a ghetto intellectual; I am either too ghetto for the intellectuals or too intellectual for the ghetto. But to be blunt, who cares? Conformity is simply the absence of the courage to be different, and wealth is a poor, arbitrary way to measure such assimilation.

These stereotypical extremes have only strengthened my beliefs. I sometimes get confused about which universe is the real one and which is the alternate reality. But in the end, it does not matter. I shall intertwine them.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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BrilliantInnocenceThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Feb. 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm:
I really love this. Extremely well written. I really admire you because you obviously worked very hard, and I can relate to going to a rich school, while being a minority. It really isn't easy- Keep writing more, can't wait to read what else you have, because you really are talented!
 
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surfthis said...
Feb. 6, 2012 at 10:31 am:
So well written!! I came to menlo park/atherton many years ago and felt like an imposter because I grew up poor. Like you, I have had to work to feel that I belong. It's a long road, but the most important step is to be comfortable as the man you are. You are brilliant and a brave writer. Stay on your path and make it your own. Wishing you huge success, good grades, and a peaceful mind. You can do it.
 
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Rogersright said...
Feb. 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm:
wow, this is greatness ! im speecless by how good this was. Great job !
 
alopez650 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm :
Thank you so much. It took me a very long time to write this, im glad it paid off
 
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