Category Archives: Personal Narratives

Finding comfort in my identity

By Luis Ortiz
Chicago, IL

When I moved to the United States from Mexico, one of the things that surprised me the most was the locker rooms. In 2011, I came to Chicago from my home in Mexico City for a vacation with my family. After a week, my father went home, and I was told by my mother that we would not be returning with him. I had to learn to adapt to the United States as an immigrant and learn a new reality that would not include my father and his family.

To add to my personal confusion, I discovered something important in the locker room: I was attracted to guys. My dad raised me Catholic, which led me to believe that I was destined to go to hell. When I told my family, they were not pleased: my mother, a fundamentalist non-denominational Christian, took it very badly. We became distant, and we had several arguments that made my life very bitter. During the summer before freshman year of high school, I contemplated the idea of suicide or running away, but I never attempted to do anything about it.  Continue reading

Safe sex education protects teenagers

By Jadelyn Flores-Sierra
New Brunswick, NJ

You are only worth your virginity; once you lose it, no man will respect you,” my mother reminds me yet again. Though the phrase is familiar, I make it a point to look her in the eyes, and the longer I hold the stare, the more I am able to see centuries of female oppression that existed long before my mother was born.

The very idea that I am worth much more than one act in my life is not the result of some epiphany made during health education. Though that class didn’t teach me to respect myself—that was something I had to learn on my own—I was lucky to receive a health education that taught me about different forms of contraceptives. However, not all students in the United States have access to knowledge about safe sex. Sexual education, for some students, is reduced to abstinence-only. The danger in abstinence-only education is not only ignorance but also, and more significantly, the creation of a population at increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.  Continue reading

A summer course in adulthood

By Nathan Phan

Illustration by Nathan Phan

By Saintra Thai
San Bernardino, Calif.

With a knapsack on my back, an over-sized suitcase by my side and a plane ticket in my hand, I was ready to go on an epic adventure.

I was at the time a sophomore in high school, and at the encouragement of my brother, I had decided to apply to Harvard University’s Secondary Summer School Program. A few weeks later, I found myself jumping up and dancing out of my seat when I got the acceptance email. I was convinced that it was pure luck that I had been offered a spot in the summer program. But while I thought my dreams had come true, my journey was just beginning. Continue reading

Finding courage in my mother’s strength

By Marily Lopez
Los Angeles, Calif.

I woke to the sound of my father’s voice on the phone, whispering, “Marily, take care of your sisters while I’m gone. I love you.” As an eight-year-old in Sleeping Beauty pajamas, I was confused. I fell back asleep thinking I was going to wake up to just another morning of my mom and dad sharing a kiss and laughing about my little sister’s ridiculous bedhead. I thought the next day we would all be eating dinner and giggling about how my mom dropped her dinner plate all over her shirt and our dog licked food off her.

Instead, I woke up, and I saw my sister’s bloodshot eyes. She had cried herself to sleep. Confused, I went into the kitchen, embraced my mom and felt her cold tears on my small shoulders. Suddenly, I realized that this change was permanent. From here on out, it would only be my mom, my two sisters and me. Continue reading

Dreams inspired by my sister’s struggles

By Eliana Lanfranco
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Every night, I sit down with my nine-year-old sister at the dining table and help her with her school work. I give her all of my attention and patience, and I make sure that she does her best on all of her assignments. Because she has trouble focusing, I must stay with her from start to finish, which means that I must put my own school work aside. As a result, I usually finish all of my assignments well past midnight.

It isn’t just that I have to help my sister with her homework. I also have to help her deal with the symptoms of her hyperthyroidism, which she was diagnosed with two years ago. This condition makes the thyroid glands produce an excess of thyroxine, causing my sister to have an accelerated metabolism, hot flashes and difficulty sleeping. Often, I must stay awake with her for hours until she falls asleep.

This responsibility falls to me because my mother works until late at night and does not speak English. When I was younger, I resented my mom for leaving this to me: None of my friends had to be like a substitute mother for their siblings, and I envied their freedom and careless manner. But as I grew older, I started to feel ashamed of those feelings. I realized that my mother was working all day so she could pay the bills and everyday expenses. Continue reading

Leaving the nest and finding myself

By Angela Kim
Valencia, Calif. 

Growing up, I was encouraged by my parents to “leave the nest” and experience as much as I could, but I was always overwhelmed by how big the world was. I was overwhelmed by the entirety of people, places and experiences the world had to offer, but also nervous about being away from home. So when I was accepted into the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program this spring, I felt ambivalent.

I left Los Angeles with unease, but once I met other students from the program boarding my plane, my apprehension gradually disappeared. I was now shaking with anticipation: I wondered what kind of people I would meet and what the East Coast would be like. Continue reading

A new life in a new country

By Jingwei Zhang
Oakland, Calif.

At five years old, I moved thousands of miles away and across an ocean, from a village in the Guangzhou province of China to Oakland, Calif. My parents were farmers who wanted me to have a better life, and they had heard that America was a land of opportunity. But it wasn’t until many years later that I realized the difference between my new home and the world I left behind. Continue reading

Losing a home, gaining a perspective

By Jhazalyn Prince
Brooklyn, N.Y.

My stomach clenched painfully as I opened the kitchen cabinet. Day by day, the contents continued to dwindle. I grabbed a Cup Noodles for the third time that day. It was the last package.

I was 13 when my parents separated. My brother, my mother and I had to leave our apartment and move to my grandmother’s apartment building. But in 2012, my mother lost her job, and we were evicted when we came up short on our rent. At age 16, I found myself homeless, embarrassed and angry—let down by my family. Continue reading

Growing up after my mother’s death

By Kina Carney
Philadelphia, Pa.

The afternoon before she died, I stood at my mother’s hospital bedside with my grandma. I looked at all the tubes and machines that enveloped her body. I heard the ringing of the feeding machine. I saw the paleness of her face. The smell of the IVs made me run from the room, into the waiting arms of my grandma. That night, I heard my older brother crying. I ran to the top of the stairs to see what was wrong. I’d never seen him cry before. Continue reading

Finding my home in the city that never sleeps

By Sara Solano
New York, N.Y.

I was 13 years old when my parents announced that we would be moving from our home in the Dominican Republic to New York City. My parents made a bad investment with the family business, and thought that we would have better opportunities in America.

This transition meant the end of gymnastics, cheerleading, art class, and soccer. I had to leave my friends and everything that was important to me. We applied for a visa, and on July 27, 2010, we arrived in New York to embark on a new journey.  Continue reading