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.

This Woman’s Work

Astrid Colindres

I have always been told the common cliché – you can do anything you want to do with your life. But I question how I could accomplish everything that society expects of a Latina. These “expectations” feel like obstacles to me. In society, but especially in Latino culture, women are expected to balance a job, do all the house chores, take care of their children without any support from the males in the family, and still be outstanding, adoring wives, yet we are still seen as inferior to men.

I see this happen everyday in my own household. My mom takes on all the household responsibilities. She doesn’t juggle all these responsibilities because my dad or anyone specifically asks her to, but because she feels as a woman, society demands it. Maybe being from Central America has a lot to do with her perspective on life. The environment she was raised in is different from mine. Times have changed, but she didn’t and unfortunately, she tries to transfer her ideas about womanhood onto me.

On a typical day, I get home tired and want to take a break before starting my homework. My mother, however, expects me to setup for dinner and clean afterwards. I do not object to chores. I merely object to the expectation that I should do housework because I am a girl.

When I explain my objection to my mother, she tells me, “your future husband will think you are useless and won’t want you!”

I keep to myself the thought that I don’t plan to be my husband’s maid or slave. I imagine while other girls are cooking and cleaning, I will be helping people in my dream profession in the medical field. I understand my mom is a traditional woman and I respect her for that, but I want to break tradition.

I am not the only girl in my family. In fact, my mom had three girls. One of my sisters used to live with our family before. My mom would always try to enforce the same responsibilities onto my sister. I remember my oldest sister used to obey her, but was not too thrilled about it. My sisters, like myself, also believe women have more potential than just cooking and cleaning. This is why I admire my sister for pursing a career as a social worker. Now that my sister left our house she has a household of her own to run. To me it is funny to see that as much as she tried to let go of my mother’s traditions, she has not been able to completely. In fact, she emphasizes cooking and cleaning in her household. The only twist is she requires cooking and cleaning from her husband and son. Personally, I find it amazing how she is trying to change traditions, and I hope step-by-step small changes like these can one day help us reach full equality for women.

Society has made great strides including women in the workplace.  I have read that more women than men get entry-level jobs, do better in college and graduate school, and generally perform at higher levels on standardized tests.  The fact that these achievements have not yet translated into greater career advancements at the higher levels, no doubt has multiple causes. Women attach greater importance to family than to their career; women question their decision-making rather than try to appear decisive; women give birth and interrupt their careers for biological reasons.

 I believe that women are too valuable as a resource to put them aside and treat them as second-class citizens. Some of us may decide to forsake children and husbands for careers, and in addition, society can evolve to accept us as different but equally valuable. The fact that we know how to cook, clean, care for children, maintain a job, have ambitions, and much more, makes us extremely strong and equally capable to men. We women need to let the world know that we are multi-talented and are capable of everything!  I look forward to the day when men take on their half of these chores that my mother now views as “women’s work.”

Failed to be a Man

Vangelis Velazquez

“¡No llores! Los hombres no lloran,” my grandpa would tell me if he saw me crying, for men were not supposed to cry. “Déjalas, son mujeres que ellas recojan,” my dad would say whenever my mom would tell me to help my sisters clean up because men were not supposed to clean up after themselves.

I wanted to be a man, whatever that meant. I learned it was to be a protector, a provider, a tough guy, and a jerk that would mistreat women. They wanted me to be a machista, but did I really want to be that? Or was that what my family wanted me to be? It seemed acceptable within my conservative Mexican community, so why not?

I grew up believing men were superior to women. Why? Maybe because I’m Mexican. My uncles gave me the idea that I was meant to grow up and marry someone that would stay in the house cooking while I would be working to put food on the table. Throughout my childhood, I learned I had to grow up para mantener my wife who would be ironing my clothes every day.

My grandma is the typical housewife of a machista husband, my grandpa, because she is like a maid to him. My grandma cooks and serves my grandpa food. She fixes the bed, cleans the restroom, and does the laundry. She does not like the routine she has, yet she does not do anything to change it. My grandma unintentionally advocates machismo culture by telling my aunts they were ready to get marry because they cooked something good. But why did they need to learn how to cook well to be able to get marry?  Did they really need to grow up to serve a man?

I couldn’t disagree with that ideology of machismo even if I thought it was wrong. My dad wouldn’t like it. My dad expected me to become a man, a man like him. Everybody I knew seemed okay with it. My grandma would describe machistas as imbeciles, yet she needed to ask grandpa permission to do anything, like she was under his control.

Machismo is veiled social injustice. It’s an issue that is present but seldom noticed. And if it is noticed, it won’t be talked about because it’s taboo. Like it was something not meant to be changed. No one seems to want to change it. As if the solution was the typical “Just deal with it” solution.

As I learned to reason, I noticed this happened everywhere. In school it felt worse to lose against a girl in sports than a guy. “What!  She made a goal on you?” my friends would say.  Or “Ooh, a girl beat you.” When girls hear those comments, they don’t often see them as insults. Maybe because they felt proud about their victory. They take those comments as compliments because they’ve defeated a boy, which is something not meant to happen. But those comments imply that girls are weaker, less capable, and not expected to be better than boys.

It felt worst to be told I looked like a girl than ugly, like it was bad to be compared to a girl.  Like it was bad to be a girl.  More like it was a sin to be a girl. I knew I was a guy, so I didn’t really get hurt by what they said.  But why would I be hurt?

Girls are supposed to be innocent and weak, and they are meant to rely on a man, according to a machista. If they commit something that disagrees with a machista’s conservative beliefs, they will become an outcast. Machismo doesn’t allow women to express themselves.  Be themselves.  It doesn’t let women be free.  Free from invisible chains because they are slaves of machismo.

Machismo is inherited through Mexican culture.  It is a tradition, something normal. By instinct we, Mexican men, act on it.

Catholic Religion reveals machismo through the emphasis of how perfect women should be. Why aren’t women hosting a mass?  Why are men only allowed to become a priest or a pope?  And I wonder if anyone else has thought of this as well. Are others too distracted looking at the Virgin Mary’s innocent face, a role model for women?  When Virgin Mary has her hands tied together like a slave’s hands, maybe a slave to men.  That didn’t seem to contradict machismo’s belief. The belief that women are supposed to serve men.

It took my mom divorcing my dad for her to be able to do what she wanted.  I asked grandma why didn’t she do the same thing. All she said was that it would look bad to society, that she wouldn’t have survived with my mom and uncles alone because they won’t have food to eat and a place to live, which was what grandpa provided.  Society, economy, traditions, and religion seem to play a big role with machismo in society.

Why not fight against machismo? Simple, you cannot fight against something you don’t see. Machismo is the idea of men being superior to women, and ideas are the most powerful things in the world because they are nearly impossible to get rid of it.

Machismo is at the heart of our culture. We can’t just dig and destroy those roots, but grow a new tree. We need to be progressive about machismo ideas for the future generations to live in a environment where women aren’t being mistreated.  Our children need to learn that men and women are equal, that a woman is no different than a man.  Because they were never different. And they’ll never be different.

For a time, a long time, I did not want to cry.  Now I want to let my feelings out.  I wanted a housewife.  Now I want a wife. I did not want to lose against a girl.  Now I just want to play.  I wanted to be a father of macho boys.  Now I want children.  I love being a Mexican, but not a jerk.  I wanted to be a machista. Now I want to be Vangelis.

Now, if I don’t want to wash the dishes, it’s because I’m lazy, not because I’m too much of a man.

Crossing the Border

Marlon Argueta

Have you ever thought what it would be like to be stuck in a place where you don’t belong, in a place where the principles of our country are not applied to you, a place where you live in constant fear?  I know I haven’t, but many undocumented people go through this everyday. Until now I’ve never really been able to appreciate the struggles they go through and the perseverance they have to become U.S citizens. I have taken undocumented people as a joke.  Once I made fun of my friend who was undocumented by telling him, “Oh I bet you can jump that gate quickly since you’ve crossed the border.” He gave me a simple yet vague answer. He said, “You’re funny.” At the time I thought he actually thought my joke was funny, but what he found funny wasn’t my joke; it was me for trying to make fun of him.

Now that I look back on this it was cynical of me to say such a thing without taking into consideration undocumented immigrants’ dreams, their hopes, and the desire they have to come here. But how could I be so mean? Am I not a Hispanic too? These are the questions I ask myself now, but to be completely honest I don’t know the answers to them. Maybe I was trying to fit in or maybe I was trying to get rid of my own personal problems. I just know that I thought I was better than him. Why? Well, I had better things than him like clothes, shoes, and other luxuries. What was it that made us so different? Simple: I was born here in a modernized country where everything is easy to obtain. Meanwhile he was born on “the other side,” a place heavy with oppression and poverty, a place where you’re taught to work before being educated, a place where nothing is free and everything must be worked for. The fact that people from “the other side” were coming illegally to a country where I was born in made me feel superior to them.

Now I realize that I had the privilege of being born here. If it weren’t for my parents then I would’ve been in the same situation as my friend. Instead, my parents experienced that situation, and it’s through my mom that I learned the most about it. I had always thought she was born here, and I remember one day she told me that she too crossed the border.  We were eating dinner and watching Univision 34. A report came out on illegal immigrants. I made a comment that “Ellos deberian regresar de donde vinieron.” They should go back to where they came from. My mom looked at me with a look I had never seen before; I think she had never had it until that day. She swallowed her spoonful of beans and told me, “Don’t ever say that again. I’m an immigrant too.”  I was shocked, but more than that I was enraged. At that moment I felt like I didn’t even know who my own mom was anymore. How could someone I look up to be one of “them”?

I now ponder how much I’ve changed since then, and I owe it all to my mom. After finding out she wasn’t born here, I felt angry because I felt I was cheated out of the truth of who I was. Although I was born here, making me a citizen, I felt as if all the laws and principles of this country no longer applied to me. I knew I had a right to be in this country, but now I didn’t feel as if I belonged. I didn’t feel “American” enough to be here and that I was just an immigrant incognito. When my mom saw I was shocked and frustrated, she asked why. I replied, “Because you’re a paisa.” She then asked me if I know why people from ever there came here to the U.S.A. I replied, “Because we’re better than them and that’s why they want to be here.”

She then told me the hardships she had to overcome and the process of coming here. She told me she had to walk for miles through hot, humid deserts that would burn the life right out of you, with little food and water, making her feel that like the food and water, her life too was starting to run out. The two things that made her keep going, that made her feel alive, that replenished her with the strength she needed, were the idea of the American Dream and the vivid memories of the life she had shared with her family back at home. She described how she had to sleep during the cold, seemingly never-ending nights with only a tattered blanket and the companionship of others to keep her warm. How she had to swim, with a heart as heavy as a boulder, against the Rio Grande’s strong currents. Because it was only like this that she felt unmoved by the raging waters. She explained that the most difficult obstacle she had to face was to ride El Tren de la Muerte. The Train of Death. Having no money to pay for a ticket, she was forced to ride on the roof of the train. When the train was on the move, she would see villages filled with people that would cheer them on, and barren wastelands that stretched for miles making her feel as if she was the only person in this desolate land. She also passed by fields where she saw her countrymen pour their blood and sweat to picking fruit, a job that she too once had, that fed her country and others. At night the cold wind would rush at her and attack her like sharp knives. Not only was she in danger from falling to her death but she also faced from the gangsters that would sometimes hop on the train to steal the only precious belongings that the immigrants had:  money, jewelry, and sometimes even their lives. She had to overcome all these physical, mental, and emotional obstacles, while fearing being caught by la migra and being sent back.

She told me this dreadful journey for hours.  I asked her why someone would go through all of this; she replied they had a dream of a better life and the desire to help our family that stayed behind. After hearing all of this, I was amazed and suddenly I didn’t feel this sense of hate anymore, but a deep respect for them.

What change has been made though? My mom was one of the lucky ones: she managed to get a residency card and now lives without the fear of being deported. But how many immigrant families out there feel safe from being deported? How many are living the American Dream? How many have a better life than the ones they left behind? Not many.  A hero in definition is a person who is admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. My mom once told me that a hero always receives some type of reward. I believe each and every immigrant is a hero for embarking on a journey as dangerous as the one they took. They just haven’t received their reward yet.