Sara M.

  • 11th Grade
  • Virginia

What does America mean to you?

By Sara M.
Mosley, Virginia

My mother sits on the stiff airplane seat, her eyes staring out the window. Below is her Islita, shrinking as she’s flying farther and farther away from home. The island of Puerto Rico, which was once her entire world, looks miniscule from above. Across the Caribbean Sea, The United States of America awaits, but she cannot make the tears stop as her Islita fades away from sight.

My parents moved from Puerto Rico to the States because of my dads job in the U.S Coast Guard. My parents started off in a rental home in a small town in Iowa. As the years passed, our family grew. Due to my fathers twenty-two years of service to his country, my parents were able to buy their first house in 2015. My parents always worked hard to provide for my brothers and me. Even when we could not afford to go on a big family vacation, I never felt like I was missing anything, and I had a happy childhood. My parents are one of my biggest inspirations, who by example, taught me the importance of hard work.

Due to political instability, my grandparents immigrated from Cuba to Puerto Rico in the 50s. My grandma was only seventeen when she got her first job as a secretary for a cement block factory. As a young adult, my grandpa started as a grocery bagger and worked his way up to be the CEO of one of the main distribution centers on the island. My grandparents’ stories never fail to amaze me and will always be one of my biggest inspirations. They are only two of the thousands of immigrants who were able to succeed and accomplish the American Dream.

With my grandparents and parents as examples, I was raised with a hunger to succeed in life. My parents taught me to sing the song that hard work will always be rewarded. Therefore, I worked hard in everything I did. I got my first summer job when I was fifteen where I worked as a lifeguard at my community’s pool. At sixteen, I was promoted to Assistant Manager. Through the experience, I quickly learned that most people did not take me seriously. Despite the hours and energy, I devoted to my job, the patrons always asked to see the other manager. When I explained I was the manager for the day, they would not let me help them. The work experience only fueled me with a desire to work harder and prove to others that I was capable of much more than they gave me credit for.

Despite the strides toward equality in the United States, I hear and see the cries of disparity around me. As I grew older, I felt like a puzzle piece was missing in me, but I didnt know how to find it. As I reached my teen years, I realized how alone I felt in some of my experiences. Despite having amazing friends, none of them could relate to the way I was raised. None of them related to the often overwhelming expectations I carried on my shoulders. None of them related to the constant whisper in the back of my mind, telling me I had to be strong. Because compared to the hardships my grandparents and parents faced, I would always be weak. Through a few movies and social media, I discovered that I was not alone. My struggles had a name and a face. With that information, I started rebuilding the puzzle I had abandoned at a young age.

It was not easy. There were a million different pieces and they were all scattered across the floor. It took a while, trying to make sense of all the broken pieces. At first, the puzzle was very overwhelming. Piece by piece, I started connecting the tiny pieces. As the picture became clearer, my desire to succeed only grew. With the completed picture, my desire now had a direction. I knew what I wanted to succeed in.

I love America because I have the chance to grow and accomplish my dreams. As a young Latina, I see the struggles of my Hispanic community. The media often portrays the beauty and diversity of Hispanic culture in a stereotypical light. The news overlooks the stories of success and overcoming hardships that are crucial to our family history and identity. The stereotypical and often negative portrayal is harmful to the community, shoving individuals in boxes they do not even belong in. As a young girl, I felt misunderstood and unvalidated since those stories were so important to my identity.

I love America because, here, I can work for change. Theres a burning desire in me to go out there and help my Hispanic Community. In America, I have the freedom to pursue an education that will allow me to follow my dreams. Career-wise, I desire to go into journalism. I believe everyone is a book that has a story worth telling. I want to put myself out there and tell the stories of marginalized Hispanic communities. I want to give a voice to those who have been left voiceless for too long. Through focusing on shared experiences and hardships, I want to help people connect with each other. When we are connected, we feel less alone with our broken puzzle pieces. I hope to help create a future where a little Latina girl feels seen, validated, and understood, a future where she can easily make sense of all her broken puzzle pieces.