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As the applause faded to a hum, my whole body began to tremble. My throat seized up and tiny bumps arose across my arms. Just as my legs felt ready to give out underneath me, the conductor raised her hands. In one swift movement, a wave of relief washed over me as I raised my voice loudly.
“Still I rise!” I sang, lifting my voice with the others. The harmonious sound that filled the auditorium resonated deep within me. At this moment, I found my strength. I was no longer an individual, struggling alone. Rather, I was a part of a family, a group of people performing what they love. On the choir stage, I had found my home. However, it took years of overcoming obstacles to attain this sense of belonging.
Raised in the U.S. by Mexican parents, I discovered that my lifestyle was different from the lives of my peers. I was taught early on that my priorities should be work, family, and religion. Dishes had to be washed, clothes folded, beds made, and bathrooms cleaned before I was allowed free time. When relatives visited I had to entertain them, no matter the duration of their stay. Once I became involved in church, school was a lesser priority. I was responsible for attending all practices. Education would come later.
As I grew older, I began to notice that my aims were, in fact, different from my family’s aims Learning became my passion and ultimately my top priority. When my brother started abusing drugs and dropped out of school, I continued working hard, unfazed. When my sister turned to alcohol and skipped classes, I continued bringing home straight A’s. Eventually, people in the Hispanic community began to notice my dedication to school, and they were confused. In Spanish countries, education is not as important, so my diligence was seen as an anomaly. And despite having never lived in Mexico, I was expected to speak and write Spanish fluently. My inadequacy in this regard brought harsh criticism.
I was not welcome in the American community either. Certain stereotypes, often the worst ones possible, came with my label of Mexican-American; people expected me to be lazy, illiterate, pregnant, or addicted to drugs and alcohol. When I proved them wrong, people began to find other aspects of my life to criticize, namely my family. Twenty years ago, my parents started a private landscaping company. My father, an agricultural engineer, works long, hard hours to provide for our family. However, the American community does not view my family’s business from this perspective. They see a stereotypical Hispanic occupation of lawn-mowing. Because of this misconception, many people believe I plan to continue the business. They do not realize my greater aspirations to free myself from these stereotypical barriers.
Since neither community accepted me, I formed my sense of belonging through education. Though my first home will always be the stage, mathematics has always been a love of mine, and I find peace in solving equations. I enjoy that there is a definite solution and that second-guessing myself is not an option. I also find peace through reading. Through literature, I am able to have new experiences and view the world from different perspectives. Likewise, I am able to express my personal experiences and perspectives through writing. Home is where I am able to lay my heart on a page, to share my wisdom with others.
World-renowned author Maya Angelou once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” All my life, I have struggled to find this place of acceptance and security, yet I have learned that home is not necessarily tied to a specific culture or group of people. Instead, it is where a person can express himself fully, without shame or self-consciousness. And through the obstacles in my life, overcoming prejudices and abolishing stereotypes, I am happy to say I have found my home in learning.
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