I remember hearing the judgements and looks from across the room. They snickered at my mother as she tried to speak the language of freedom. I remember my parents sighing when the waitress put us in an isolated corner of the fancy restaurant simply because of the color of our skin. I remember my father, with a sparkle in his eyes, speak about the American Dream.
I remember feeling like an outsider; different beyond comprehension. Opening the door, my mother ignited the engine of the car. Colgando en Tus Manos, a popular Spanish song, played automatically. Regretfully, I asked her to change it.
Instead, she began to sing at the top of her lungs, “Y cuando estuvimos por Venezuela!” Growing up, I refused to listen to Spanish music. I’m not sure why, but every time it played, I associated a negative feeling with it. Headphones placed, I silenced it all. The car made a turn, and we slowly came to a stop. We were enrolling my brother at his new school. My mother, head raised, sashayed with her six inch heels and expensive purse to the school as if she owned the place. The school was a long brick building in the middle of an old neighborhood. Trees enveloped the structure, lining the roads, hiding them from sight.
We walked to the entrance, reflecting our own years in elementary school, knowing that things would never go back to the innocent way they were once before. My older sister found the front office and signaled us to join her. Looking around, I took in every detail. This was where my brother will make amazing memories and even more amazing friends. We approached the office, when a lady wearing all pink greeted us. “Hello! Welcome! How can I help you?” She seemed happy to be there but a note in her voice proved otherwise. “Hello, I’m here to enroll my son in school,” My mother’s accent shifted the look on the front office administrator’s face.
“Okay, well I will have to see proper…” she paused for a moment, scanned my mother up and down, and then uttered the single most offensive, demeaning, and ignorant word an American woman can say, “documentation.” I was speechless. Years of being ashamed of my heritage disappeared in an instant. All the times I shamed my mother for speaking broken English, for not being able to write an email to my teacher, and for dressing ten years younger than she really was, erupted, in my mind. This single moment of clarity finally opened my eyes.
My mother, being the amazing woman she is, disregarded the comment, and handed her the “documents”. Our Venezuelan roots that taught strength and kindness proved helpful in this moment of vulnerability. The woman saw us as trespassers, undeserving of upper class luxury, like the Michael Kors purse my mother carried.
My parents left their family, friends since birth, familiarity, and their home so that we, my siblings and I, could live without fear of government corruption, food shortages, and danger on the streets. They sacrificed everything for the love of their children. This woman knew nothing of sacrifice. She grew up in a nice home with a nice family, went to college, and now teaches elementary school kids. Surely, there must be a reason, an explanation for her prejudice behavior. Inside, I knew there wasn’t. To them, we were invaders. But, according to us, we are the ones that in spite of all the hardships, challenges, and obstacles we face, we persevere. That with everything that we go through, we continue to become the doctors, lawyers, scientists, singers, writers, dancers, and activists. We are the ones that with creativity, kindness, and compassion make America. The immigrants. The changers. The makers.
We can get angry and report this teacher for her careless remark, but for what? If justice is the answer, I don’t want any part of it. In moments of doubt I saw the smaller moments of love, and in those moments I found peace. After, we went back to the car, and Colgando en Tus Manos played once more. This time, however, I didn’t ask my mother to change it. This time, I sang at the top of my lungs the words I grew up knowing. Before, I wanted to change who I was, where I came from, and how I look like. Now, I know who I am. I am my mother’s accent, the music that plays in the car, the arepas my grandmother cooks, and the stories my parents tell me. Without my roots, what am I?
Without my family, who am I? Without love, what would I become?
When I was younger I didn’t know who I was, nor who I wanted to be. Everywhere, people were telling me I should do this, be that. It wasn’t until this very moment that I saw clarity. I should not be hiding what makes me different, nor attempting to change it. Instead, I should focus on that difference, and acknowledge that it is the best part of me. The part that makes me different from everyone else. The part that makes me everything that I am and everything that I will be.–Shania Hurtado. RBC Flaunt It Award Finalist