Category Archives: Essays

Chunky

Jose Ponce

When we were kids, we don’t think about how simple things like eating could affect us. I know I wasn’t aware of my eating habits because during the time, I was enjoying my childhood like any other kid with no worries would. But all of the worry-free moments and happy times seemed to darken when I finally started to notice the changes in my physical appearance. I became less active when it came to my playtime and was almost always running short of breath. I hated watching my friends play without me while I was sitting on the benches by myself. And then I saw the changes in other kids’ sense of humor. Like my eating habits, I ignored the kids’ comments because I thought it was only temporary, but when I began middle school, everything went from bad to worse.

I thought middle school would be tough because it was a higher level of education and required a higher level of maturity. A higher level where I would have challenging tasks and tons of homework just like any other student. But instead I received an even more challenging task: trying not to get torn to pieces by the other kids. Almost every day I’d hear kids laughing and calling out cruel names to others, primarily to the obese students. I wasn’t sure, but it looked as though I met this task with high performance. I didn’t know anyone who made fun of people based on their appearance. It seemed unnecessary.

Why did they do it? What would make them think that chunky or obese people aren’t normal in their view? I pondered these questions while they picked on some other obese student in the cafeteria. I watched the obese student change the expression on his face and let some tears roll down his cheek. Right when I started to go to the restroom, other 7th and 8th graders entered right before me. When they came to me, they shouted, “Hey fatty, you’re blocking the restroom”, and pushed me out of their way.

Fear is what brought me down, fear of being cornered in the restroom and get pushed around like some ball bouncing from wall to wall. I thought of all the things they were capable of doing, probably just push me and throw my school supplies to the ground, but fortunately, they only passed me by and left. I let out a sigh of relief and walked back to class. Then I saw a group of 8th graders around a chunky 6th grader.  They started poking him in his stomach and telling him he was going to drink up all the water in the water fountain. The expression the chunky kid had on his face, it seemed as if he were broken, not physically but emotionally, and he nothing to defend himself because he already knew there was nothing he can do. The 8th graders saw me and asked, “What the hell are you looking at?” In my head, I fantasized myself standing up to the them and saying, “Don’t bother him, what did he do to you? Who cares if he’s different, just leave him alone.” It seemed so simple to do, but instead I said nothing and walked away.

After that day, I kept asking the same questions in my head, “Why do you do this to me? To us? Are we that different? We are humans. We have feelings. Damn you, then. I won’t care.” That was the day I decided not to let fear keep me in the shadows. I was tired of being afraid. Physically, I didn’t show weakness, but emotionally, I had already crumbled because of the same fear I faced every day. I didn’t want to be insulted or pushed or called out by cruel names.  Though I didn’t have the body to prove my worthiness, I had beliefs. Beliefs that I can do anything, anything to show the people who bring down other “different” people that I am capable of more extraordinary things than they can. To be or not to be, that was the question in my mind. Can I be more than what people see me as or not? I chose to be.

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My Opinion – A Work in Progress

Kimberly Garcia

Every day America is evolving, but stopping discrimination is still a work in progress.  Homosexuality is a very tense subject to some. Some argue it is their life, but others argue God does not approve the union of two people of the same sex. Who is right? Is anyone right? If we believe so much in respect why can’t we respect those that love in the same way though they love a different sex? Can we blame modernization for evolving such thoughts at an early age or the openly homosexuals displaying their love in the streets?  Or is it nonsense to blame a feeling that grows within?

Many ask what I think of homosexuality, whether I think gay people should be allowed to get married.  What’s my belief on laws deeming same sex marriage illegal? But can I really take a side? Am I passionate enough to argue for either side? I mean, it’s part of my society, but I can’t even choose which universities to apply for right now.  However, the decision of one of my family member’s to come out as homosexual has demonstrated to me that some day I have to make up my own opinions.

Just one month ago, my aunt finally decided to “come out of the closet.” I have grown to truly admire my aunt now for whom she has learned to be. My aunt has always been a strong, independent, and serious woman. Born from an earlier generation, revealing her sexuality to our family was incredibly hard and thus took her about 30 years. Although she is still learning to open up, she has finally let go of her fears of rejection.  It was really no secret that she did not have a preference for men, but I would have loved for her attitude to have been as optimistic and honest as it is now.  But I still blame society for stopping who she really was for a long time. I have no right to judge her preferences. Who is she to judge my opinion?

Until a couple of months back, my aunt never accepted herself. Thinking about her sexuality always seemed to put her in a bad mood. For five years my aunt shared a relationship with a woman she only acknowledged as her “friend.” No one was allowed to label her anything more, and no one dared to. “Where did your girlfriend go?” my uncle once asked neutrally. “My friend 

is inside,” was my aunt’s annoyed response. When I was younger I did not understand what the big deal was, but as I grew up I realized that being different sometimes is hard to accept. Especially coming from a generation in which almost everyone is extremely religious and against same sex marriage, I now understand why my aunt took such a long time. When my aunt was with her so-called “friend” she seemed isolated, distracted, and moody. I don’t know whether it was her relationship that made her like this, whether it was because she couldn’t be herself, or simply because she couldn’t accept and demonstrate to us that she was in a relationship. Eventually my aunt’s relationship ended.  Oddly enough, she did not mention that they had broken up but the entire family knew it was a done deal when the lady wasn’t around for family gatherings.  A couple of months later, my aunt finally told her sister (my other aunt) about her sexual preference. To be quite honest, speaking to my aunt was always dreadful because her lack of joy intimidated me. But one year after she came out, my aunt transformed into a vibrant lady and speaks with so much enthusiasm.

My aunt has undergone a complete change both physically and spiritually. Now for family meetings she doesn’t hesitate to show off her new girlfriend. She even smiles.  Though I am astonished by my aunt’s complete change in attitude, I am so happy for her because she has also begun to be (as mean as it may sound) lovable. Whenever I was around my aunt before, I felt very tense because I didn’t know what was appropriate to say, so I just knew two rules: don’t mention the “friend” and don’t mention the “friend.”

As dreadful as it was before, now holding a conversation with my aunt is pleasurable. It has gotten to the point where she feels comfortable enough to tell me “she has maaany girlfriends.” I am extremely glad and pleased that my aunt now feels comfortable enough to talk with me without my constant fear of saying something wrong even if it has to come down to those awkward moments that she is repeatedly mentioning she is a prince charming for the ladies. By accepting herself, my aunt has finally taken a step forward in her life. She can now be happy and settle down with whomever she pleases. And she has. I bow to her for being who she is now and for having the guts to accept SHE IS different and that’s just how it is. She has left me in awe

because she has changed so much that now she has even began waxing her eyebrows and styling her hair differently. And even though that might seem not important or impressing for a woman so old fashioned, plucking one natural hair off her face is jaw dropping.

My aunt is the first person in our family to be openly homosexual. I believe that as the first woman her courage has somehow said something we could not find the words for. Not for us, not for the future generations, but for herself. It is this action that makes her the woman she is. And these are the moments that make me doubt voting against gay marriage. As hard as I try not to be biased, it is impossible to try and ignore the facts.

It comes down to the big deal: whether I support marriage between same sex partners. I am Catholic, so I believe in God, and I have faith in Him. However, Catholic churches do not support gay marriage. The Bible itself explicitly states in Leviticus 18:22 that a man “shall not lie with a male as with a woman; as it is an abomination.” Although I respect the feelings of others, I cannot pretend to go against my own religious beliefs. So when it comes to processing all my feelings aside from the facts I tend to side with the religious beliefs I have. But I still believe my opinion should not be able to hurt anyone. So I end up nowhere. I just simply go back to that cycle of not entitling myself to an opinion.

I sit and I look back and back and I cannot remember my parents ever mentioning to me anything regarding same sex marriage. I know my parents are both Catholic because that is where my beliefs grew from. I know my parents both support my aunt and I know that as happy as I am for her they are too.  To be honest I really don’t know what they think of it. And I don’t know if that is why I am so neutral about it. I have always been raised on the idea marriage is between a man and a woman.  My truth behind my reasoning: between not knowing what my opinion really is, is because I know the Bible states same sex marriage as abomination and I know I cannot disrespect that. But I also do know that I also cannot judge anyone; if they want to make “it official” through paper and pen that’s their decision not mine. To be sincere, I don’t know what my answer is; I just don’t know it yet.

I ask others for their opinions, and although I carefully listen, it is almost worthless. They simply spit out what they consider obvious: “I don’t care. It’s their life.” I don’t understand!  If so many people really don’t care, why is the government trying to make laws that prevent it? Why are churches protesting it? Why are celebrities that are “coming out of the closet” receiving their five minutes of fame? Why is it so hard for people to admit they are homosexual? Maybe people simply don’t have a genuine answer because none of us knows what’s right or what’s wrong, whether checking yes or no on that ballot is the correct thing to do.

I am too young to make decisions that can hurt my loved ones or my friends, but I cannot discard own beliefs. I think it is going to take time and experience to develop my final decision. I don’t think I will be able to solidify my reasoning if I also do not see the views of others. It might take me falling in love to understand love.

Tatay Nang Pamilya

Monica Dominguez

It all started when my ina found out that she was pregnant. She didn’t plan it, but still, I would have expected that my tatay would have been excited that he would have a little girl that he could love, play sports with, and walk down the aisle once I got married.  I believe Disney has played around with my mind because all this was just a fantasy.

Tatay condemned my ina’s pregnancy. He wanted me gone.  My ina had to bug him and show proof of the DNA test that proved I was his anak. Tatay was furious with the pregnancy; he told my ina that I couldn’t use the Montuaño family name. He even filed a restraining order to prevent my ina from asking him for help. After the dilemma was settled in court, my ina decided to go on with the pregnancy.

Living with my ina and only looking up to her as a father and mother is a difficult role that my ina took. She had the choice of giving me up for adoption or abortion, but she insisted to give me life and let me experience an ina’s love no matter the circumstances. This was the start of our journey.

I have to admit it’s not easy living with a single ina, especially if you are an only child. You are taught to be independent at an early age. Baby eagles are pushed down the sky. They either learn to fly or die. You are also taught to take care of yourself when no one’s around. I wished that I got both teachings from my ina and tatay. I would always stare at my family portrait and look for the tatay nang pamilya, the man of the house. I wish my family portrait would be complete like my friends’ or cousins’. They had a tatay and ina smiling with them in the photo.

My ina didn’t have enough money to pay the babysitter, so she taught me not to answer the phone when it rang or open the door if someone knocked. She taught me to be tough and not allow anyone to bring me down. My ina had to do what people don’t like doing, which is to borrow money. She was the only person working in our household and had to ask people she knew if she could borrow money, so she buy groceries because her salary wasn’t enough. Some of these people would be generous enough to not let her pay back, but some would be knocking at the door at night threatening to call the police if she didn’t pay up. When my ina begged them for more time, I felt helpless because I couldn’t help her. These people knew where I went to school and one loan shark visited me and told me to tell my mom to answer their calls and pay her debt.  The word debt haunts me to this very day.

Hollywood has brain washed me into believing that to have the perfect family you need to have both parents together living under the same roof. It was the norm of a traditional Filipino family. My tatay abandoning me has made me feel like a lost puppy searching for its owner. The puppy tries to re-kindle its relationship with the owner, but once again the puppy is thrown out in the cold rain with its ina.

Everyday I wonder if tatay ever thinks about me, if he asks himself, “How’s Monica doing with her studies?” or “Does she have a boyfriend that I need to watch out for?” I picture that he tells himself, “I should mail my child-support on time and it could be useful if she wants or needs to buy anything.” Tatay left his duties of being protective and loving of me before I was even born. My ina had to pick up the pieces and make the best out of it. Actually, my ina does a good job of that stereotypical, overprotective father figure in the movies. She has that “farmer with a shotgun” attitude prepared every time she sees me talking to guys despite the fact that half of my friends are male. She has mellowed out through the years, though, but she still has her “eagle-eye” looking out for any suspicious activities going on, which never happens. To this day, she tells me, “Walang munang boyfriend, pagaaral ay mas importante para sa daan nang buhay mo.” No boyfriend yet, your studies are more important for your life ahead. I know what she means and she’s just doing her best to take care of me.

This is my situation, and I work hard to make it less painful each day. When I grew old enough to realize the situation I have with tatay, I was motivated to work hard in my studies and accelerate in what I do. My certificates, photos with Dianne Feinstein, medals, report cards and trophies are ways of me saying Salamat sa lahat na ginawa mo, yung pagod, pawis at dugo na binous mo. Thank you for everything that you do, your blood and sweat that you poured into taking care of me.

Those are the prizes that my ina deserves and much more to come. I know that one day we will live in comfort. The bills will be paid on time, no more loan sharks will harass us at night, and we will live in a nice apartment that resides in a peaceful community. These are the things that I would like to give back to my ina in return for her unconditional love.

A Window of Hope

Justin Jang

I still remember that cold winter night in January 2010. I was making my way home after a heartbreaking playoff loss. To my surprise, I was welcomed home with an eviction letter attached to my front door. I couldn’t even collect my belongings: from my childhood collection of Magic Tree House book series to my only picture with my family. They were all gone. During the same evening, my mom, drinking another bottle of sake, had told me that I could no longer attend my high school because she was unable to pay the tuition. As if my life hadn’t already taken a plunge off the deep end, I had just found out that I was an illegal immigrant from my father. Tears streamed down my eyes as I kept re-assuring myself that this was all a bad dream and that I would wake up soon. I mean, only the characters in dramas have it this bad, right? There was no way that this could happen to one person.

Like every other kid, I believed that with hard work, good would prevail; however, the situation I found myself in said otherwise. I lived as a vagabond, moving over twenty times over the course of six months. Whether I was living in the homes of my friends or run-down motels, I carried a sense of shame wherever I went. When I was able to stay with the friend who attended the school I could no longer attend, I felt like a burden. The situation at the run-down motels weren’t any better. I often saw prostitutes coming in and out of these motels. At first, it was shocking to experience the real world at a young age, but I accepted the harsh reality. The difficulty living in a small motel room is unimaginable. Cooking and washing dishes were all done on the dirty bathroom floor. Eating on the narrow table next to the telephone was stressful, but I had no choice but to cope with my lifestyle. Most of the day, my mom was either drunk or passed out. Consequently, I played the role of a parent by comforting my mother who always depended on alcohol. These burdens on my shoulders weighed me down, enticing me to pack my bags and run off. But when I got to that motel room door, I turned and saw my mom passed out and realized that I was the only family she has. I was her only motivation, joy, and hope, and she was mine.

My newfound knowledge of being an illegal immigrant made me lose hope in many aspects in my life. First, I knew that even if I did end up finishing high school and decided to go to college, it would be near impossible for me afford a college education because I could not receive financial aid from the government. Second, I knew that I had to start working to support my family. My mom’s alcoholism was getting worse day by day, damaging her mind and body, and my dad has never provided child support. However, my job applications were turned down by almost everyone because of my legal status and my age. Although the odds were against me, I could not give up.

I’ll never forget that one ah-juh-shi I met that changed my life forever. I met him at this house that rented small rooms to low-income people. I stayed in a small attic with my mother. He seemed to have an air of sophistication about him despite living in the same rented room as me. Seeing how he was in the same financial situation as me, I was able to open up to him and tell him my story. He didn’t say much after, but the words he did say signaled a huge change in my life. “The key to success is to dare to dream and have the courage to act.” It was then that all my self-pity turned into resolve.

From this point on, I knew I had to bid farewell to my childhood free from any hope for an idyllic life. The image of a perfect family spending holidays together was all behind me now. I knew that I had been thrust prematurely in adulthood. It was the only way. My mother was an alcoholic, and my dad was a compulsive gambler; all this time, I resigned myself to this fate, for I thought I was powerless. But I just recently realized that education could be the way out of this hole. Only through the pursuit of higher learning could I finally give my parents the help they always needed and a life free from financial burdens. Only through a successful college career could I put myself in a position to succeed. With a new vigorous spirit invoked in me, my dream was born: I planned to become an addiction psychiatrist. With success would come a means to help my parents both monetarily and mentally. Until then, I would have to work part-time while getting the best grades I could get—a herculean task, but one that would reap rewards in the end.

Despite everything that’s happened, I keep on smiling. I believe that optimism is the greatest tool we all possess to fight against the obstacles in our lives. I turned my disadvantages into advantages by using them as a source of motivation. When I returned to school the following fall, I was more focused than ever. I had a dream. I was now finally taking action. Despite all the hardships I’ve faced, I was able to accomplish many things because I dared to dream and took action. At times, life may seem dreadful and discouraging with all the unfortunate events that come our way; however, there is always a window of hope that you can find as long as you keep your eyes and mind open for a better future.

The good can prevail.

 

A Hand

Esther Allain

When I was in a middle school, I called a friend, “retarded,” so my teacher sent me to the office. He told me that “retarded” was an offensive word, but in spite of what I was told, I continued to use the word. I’m not sure why. I might have thought he was overreacting. But if you actually think about it, you are using a name of a disability to insult someone.

In fifth grade I could not find a spot to eat lunch, the only place that had seats available was at the table with the disabled kids. I did not want to sit with them because it weirded me out to watch them being fed by a nurse, but I had no choice. After school I would play handball, but one day one of the disabled kids came up to me and asked if she could play with me, but I was not sure how she was going to run and hit the ball because her disability prevented her from bending her knees. I did not want to be rude, so I played with her. However, I played my best so she would lose and, hopefully, get upset. That way she would leave me alone. She struggled to get to the ball fast enough, but she kept on trying. I saw how determined she was to beat me, and I admired her for that. Since then we became friends and I helped her with homework and played with her afterschool. After learning more about her, I realized that she and I were not so different after all.

In June 2008, my mom had an accident at work. She was a dental assistant. Part of her job meant that she made sure the tools were ready for the procedure of the day and that the patient was okay. My mom noticed that a woman was not feeling well because she was pale, and she told my mother that she wanted to use the restroom. As the patient walked toward the restroom, my mom saw that the patient was having difficulty walking, so she went to tell her that it would be better for her to take a seat, and that’s when the patient fell on top of her.

Since the accident, she has had problems with her hand, wrist, arm and shoulder. Sometimes she cannot wear a sweater or stand in the sun because the sensation on her arm causes her pain and swelling. Doctors told her that she needed surgery on her hand to fix the nerve damage. She agreed to the “simple” surgery that the “best” doctor would perform. She went in hoping to gain the ability she used to have in her right hand. Instead, she came out with what she calls “half a hand.”

My mom calls it “half a hand” because her hand can only do half of the functions that it used to. Sometimes she jokes around saying that she has two left hands, but I don’t laugh. She cannot do much with it. She cannot open her hand all the way like a hand should; it is still sensitive and numb at parts. Specialists call her hand “amazing,” “incredible,” or “fascinating” because they have never seen anything like it. I hated to hear them say that because they said it like it was a show or something good. They would not have said that if they had seen what I have seen. She has had to relearn how to cook, clean, and write. A couple months later, my mom received an acceptance letter from USC dental school, but she could not accept it. The doctor said she was not allowed to work or go to school because she is disabled.

With my mom’s disability and her going through a divorce, there was not enough income to continue living in our apartment so we moved in with family. Eventually, we were able to move into subsidized housing. It was a nice three-bedroom apartment. Everything was good, for the moment. Then, my mom got a letter saying that she would no longer be given workers compensation and that she was fine to work. When I read the letter, I was so angry. Didn’t they see my mom’s hand? How could she work like that? Since then we have had to move about every three months. Every time the location gets worse. I remember the night our car was stolen. My mom cried and was so frustrated that we did not have money to pay the rent or buy another car. Now my mother, brother, and stepfather live in a single and ride the bus.

The year that mom had her accident my grandmother paid for my brother’s and my tickets to visit her in Florida. I was unsure about leaving my mom, but she insisted on us going. I went feeling uneasy about the idea. Florida was beautiful, and I had so much fun, but when the day was over, I felt guilty and so upset with myself. I should have stayed home with my mom, but instead I was here enjoying myself. The more I thought about this the more I wanted to cry and just scream. At the end of the week, my grandma told us to get dressed, but I was not sure where we were going, but I did as I was told. We drove up to the mountains and parked by a big stable. It smelled gross. She told us that although we were on vacation, we still needed to make time to help others. The stable was filled with horses and a line of disabled children. The children would ride the horses as a type of therapy. The children would be placed on the horse, and I would walk and talk with them. That night, I went to sleep feeling a little better. I guess helping the disabled kids helped me relieve some of my guilt.

Sometimes we do not realize that we are being ableists or that different types of disabilities exist in different types of people. Discrimination towards disabled people should not exist because we have opportunities that they might never have. My mom lost the ability she had in her hand and is adapting to her hand now.  In middle school, I offended disabled people, and now that my mom is disabled, I feel guilty. I want to end ableism. Unfortunately, discrimination does not disappear from one day to the next; we must speak up about this type of discrimination. Ableism should be recognized, and we must defend the people that are too afraid to speak up because in the end it is most likely that we will all become the same. We will all be disabled.

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