emoney, 9th - Oakland, CA
My mind swirled as it filled with questions. “Grandma did you live there?” “Did my dad live there?” “Hush now child” said my Grandma as she tucked me into bed. “Hush now child as I tell of our past. We were taken from our land stolen like jewels. Tucked into the bottom of ships. Maybe never to be returned.”
“What happened to the people Grandma, where did they go?”
“If you let me I will tell you through their story we will go. They swayed to and fro, with barely any food and water. They were chained like criminals but they hadn’t done anything wrong. And once they were finally taken out to see the light they were sold. Like pieces of paper we were passed around.”
“Grandma who would do this to us?”
“Bad people… sometimes people do things they don’t mean, they do them because they think they have too, they do them because they don’t understand. They didn’t understand the hard working nature of our culture so they decided to take advantage of that. They made us their slaves and forced us to work.”
“Grandma why did they hurt us… why did they hate us?”
“Child, they hurt us because they were hurt themselves. They didn’t know how to handle it so they hurt other people. They didn’t hate us. They just didn’t understand us. We were different and they didn’t like that so they decided to take us. Because they figured we would change if we were surrounded by their culture.”
“Did we change Grandma?”
“Yes child we did. We worked harder than we did before. But we changed. Our culture stayed with us but it was changed too. We prayed to God for freedom for deliverance from these men but it seemed God didn’t hear our prayers. We kept waiting and waiting but it seemed freedom never came. Some people stopped trusting the lord. They started believing that they were worth nothing but a slave that they were born into this world to pick cotton. But we are so much more. You my child will be so much more. You’ll be my Doctor or my Lawyer you’ll be my pride you’ll be our future. You are so much more than a slave on a plantation. You are hardworking you’ll prove these people wrong. You my child are the greatest jewel in the world.”
Ella L. 10th - Sea Girt, NJ
My favorite color is blue. It is survival, and it is death. Wrapped in a pretty bow that can just as easily be cut to reveal everything hidden inside. It is tears that fall on already wet cheeks. It is the stormy sky, and blueberries in the summertime, and frozen rivers that crack underneath heavy feet. Blue is both everything and nothing at all. It is emptiness, sadness, and it is beautiful.
She told me to close my eyes. To listen to her voice, to imagine that it was only us two in this world of millions. She told me to imagine the ocean. The slow churn of the tide and the crash of waves striking against wet sand. To imagine us, together, laid out on the golden tones of the California beaches, letting the sea carry our worries away. For the first time in months, I was at peace. And when I opened my eyes once again, so was she.
The tears silently streamed steadily, flowing as if it was a race to see who could drop off the edge of my chin first. I sniffled silently, as if I was trying not to wake her even though she would never be woken. Her eyes were already closed, so there was no need for that big tv drama of the grieving person slowly closing the eyelids of the loved one. I took her hand in mine, not yet cold, but not radiating it’s warmth that comforted me, time after time.
It was her time to go, I have known for months. It is like when the doctor gives you a shot as a child. You know it is going to hurt, and you try to put on a brave face, but the pain still comes even though you did everything you could to stop it.
My heart is bleeding now, punctured by so many needles that nothing can help. At some point, they may heal, but for now the ache drives a pain through my body like I have never felt before. I grasp her hand desperately, shaking and calling her name over and over. I scream until my jaw hurts, and my voice goes hoarse. The last thing I remember is her sapphire ring and blue highlights and my father carrying me out the door. That was the last time I ever saw her.
My mother always said to be brave. I do not feel brave right now. I feel missing, lost, like a part of my heart has been turned to ashes and scattered into the ocean with the rest of her. I don’t know. Someday, maybe I will be alright again, but I will never be whole.
Every year on her birthday, we throw a party. It is supposed to be about celebrating everything about her life.
I used to hate it.
The first year, I refused to go, only to be dragged along by my father and three brothers whose only motivation to be in attendance was to make me angry that even they were going. The thought of such a “celebration” was horrific. It seemed as if someone was going to cut my heart out and place it on display, with all of the bruises, broken pieces, and vulnerabilities out for everyone to see. I thought it would make me lost again, thrust back into the whirlpool of emotions I fought so hard to escape from.
After she died, I spent weeks hiding out in my room, in isolation. With curtains drawn, and light shut out. I knew she wouldn’t want it, but everything reminded me of her. Everything still had her smell. Her soap was still in the shower, her clothes were still in her closet, and all of the little orange bottles of medication still racked the shelves. It was stupid, but it all broke my heart.
Only about a month later did I finally begin to heal. My eyes no longer puffy from crying myself to sleep, or voice hoarse from screaming into my pillow. As the doctors said, I was moving into the next stage of grief. They said I was finally beginning to accept what had happened.
While that was true, there was still a fear embedded into me that one day I would slip back into the suffering. The pain. It had all been too much to handle, and I don’t know if I could survive it all again.
The party terrified me, I didn’t like talking about her in the first place, let alone have an entire event about it. It wasn’t awful though, and I agreed to come back each year - to celebrate the life of my mother.
This year, it’s special. It has been five years since her death, and so I have been asked to give a speech. I dress in blue, her favorite color, with my hair tied around my head in an elegant bun. There are more people here tonight than usual, which terrifies me. My hands shake, and my breath comes out ragged, but I walk up to the podium that stands before everyone and put on the same brave face that I do every year.
I look out to the people - there are so many of them. I feel a little guilty for being afraid, this is for my mother, not me. I should not be in fear to please anyone but her, and I hope that I will.
“Thank you all for coming. Tonight’s turnout is remarkable,” I begin, my voice shaking only slightly.
“My mother’s favorite color was blue. Anyone who had the pleasure of being friends with her would know this,” I direct my gaze on each of the faces I have come to know so well over these past few years. The ones who grieved with me, and felt the pain alongside me.
“She loved the diversity of it, all of the varieties of wonders and horrors it could represent. It could mean so many things to so many different people. How it is the stormy sky, and blueberries in the summertime, and frozen rivers that crack underneath heavy feet. She loved how blue is both everything and nothing at all. It is emptiness, and sadness, and it is beautiful.”
“She taught me this, among so many other things, that colors are the language of the Earth. To her, life was an opportunity to explore this planet that we have been given, and the people that inhabit it. After she died, my father gave me this letter that she had left to me. I think it’s worth hearing for all of us.” I sniffle as I pull the folded paper out of my pocket, opening it to read.
“She said, ‘Dear Lizzie, sometimes you may find that the future is scary. It is stressful to think about. You will find yourself facing questions about colleges, jobs, money, and cities. But, a lot of the time we all forget to think about the most important question. What kind of person do you, my little girl, want to be at the end of all of this? What experiences do you want to have? Because if the entire world was wiped, no more businesses, technology, money, or products, and all you had was you, yourself, and your memories, would you be satisfied? This is my advice to you, my girl: never, ever let your life become so materialistic that your entire world can be taken from you in a single swipe. There is so much out there to explore, but many of us never seem to go looking for adventure. Take advantage of your life while you have it. I love you, always.’”
I look out at the people before me as I say this, “As a gift to her, to honor her memory, we all should try to live our lives with a little bit more purpose. To honor the person we are, and lives that all of us are blessed to have, because not everyone wakes up in the morning.”
I look out to the crowd before me, making eye contact with my dad and brothers in the front row. I nod my head towards the sky, hoping she can hear me, “To my mother, and everything that she was and always will be.”
K.Sulllivan, 12th - Morgan Hill, CA
she is the picture of poised perfection;
head in a book, heart on her sleeve.
And in a world
where everyone lives a curated narrative -
the lock to a box
that was determined by mutations long ago,
hers should be the Odyssey.
So, why does her soul sing the Iliad?
Well, she’s torn;
trapped in a seventeen-year battle
at the cellular level;
two imperialist nations
playing battle royale
in the same double helix.
And now the chaos within -
a once carefully guarded secret,
is threatening to leak to the surface;
to amplify the scrutiny they cast her way -
the whispers from corners of inflexible minds
that slip into backhanded compliments.
“She’s Asian - look at her.
With thick, black hair,
a slim frame and focused eyes,
she's ambition and dedication,
quick-wit and resilience.
She's the product of centuries of civilization,
but a stranger to culture.
She looks the part but speaks the wrong tongue,
answers to the wrong name,
and values the wrong things.
she spends her Saturdays at photoshoots
not Chinese school;
she plays Taylor Swift CDs
not the piano;
and she wants to teach,
to treat atrophic minds with knowledge and assurance,
“Well, she could be white - look again.
With freckles adorning fair skin,
expressive eyebrows and a flushed face,
she's innocence and pride,
hope and passion.
She's the cheer captain and vegetarian.
Does it get more American than that?
But, she's too cultured;
gets the grade too easily,
parties too little,
and achieves too much.
she eats dim sum
not Panda Express;
she gets red envelopes
not birthday cards;
and she wants to be the President,
to make decisions and lead by example,
not be the First Lady.”
So when the time comes to settle in a box,
which will fit?
Both communities welcome her
with open arms
but shoulders drawn;
that doesn't quite reach the eyes.
The answer seems obvious ... she can be both!
But is such a thing graciously accepted?
It would be like having eggnog on Halloween,
or rather dumplings on the Fourth of July.
And how can eons of silence and exploitation and conflict
spitelessly coexist without collective sacrifice?
the sun rises
and the world turns,
and she is still ambition and dedication,
quick-wit and resilience,
innocence and pride,
hope and passion
and million other things.
So, could it be
that the dark hair and sun-kissed skin
aren’t indicators of identity,
but signifiers of stereotypes
so deeply embedded in both cultures
that it shares the very veins pumping to her heart
and threatens to alter the rhythm?
And what if,
after longs nights of tough talks,
she can find it within herself
to rest the spike in the tracks
and raise the hammer;
to allow a history of oppression and privilege
to point fingers and shake hands and work in harmony
to build a world where little dreamers
can’t believe for a second
that their hair or skin or aspirations
will dilute the magic coursing through their veins,
or allow others to judge their story
before they even pick up a pen.
Leela K., 11th- Berkeley, CA
There is a sound so soft and sweet it must be echoed inside of our heads as we walk the
streets of the golden country. There is a croon, a cry, a leftover wail, crescendoing with age, but
no matter - it’s all quiet on the Western front. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, kid. Yeah, I
know. Some bootstraps are tighter than others. No matter - keep your pendulum heart to yourself.
In this country, you are a paradox. I know this makes you angry. Calm your rage with a
hamburger. Find yourself in the Disney channel while you’re at it. Can’t find yourself? No
matter - lose yourself in the Disney channel instead.
You are an immigrant’s promise, multiplied by history, divided by status, subtracted from
singularity. Every child learns what it’s like to carry a country on their back. You gotta carry two
countries, harbor two histories, dream in two languages. Don’t walk away from me - where will
you go? Back home? Try it. See where you end up. Don’t chase circles and then blame me when
you’re right back where you’ve started.
Go ahead and cry me a river. After you’re done, put on a bikini and swim in it. Look,
observation is your friend, you can assimilate before the age of eight. I’ll help you, just
look me in the eye and tell me you’re done. Done with baby hands on Mama’s Sitar, and done
with the Roti existence. Done with rounder sounds, louder sounds. Done with
coconut oil nights and turmeric days, done with the cartwheeling accent. Tell me you’re done
with it all, and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.
I’ll give you yellow hair and blue eyes and a little button nose. I’ll give you pop music
and Ice Age and cute Mary Janes. I’ll give you Gatorade and jean jackets and tether balls. I’ll
make you a citizen, a part of the population. Just promise me you won't look in the mirror,
I am America’s dream. You are America’s child. Come, child of identity and refuge. Sit
by my side. Give me a kiss. Let’s sit and watch the concrete crack.
Students 6th-12th Grades