2011 Fire Escape Prose Contest: Third Prize

by Julia, China/MD, Age 14

Dear Judge,

My name is Jacob Smith*. I am American.

My parents are Joe and Anne Smith. They are also American.

In fact, my whole family is American. We were one of the first to settle in America, the first shipment aboard the Mayflower.

I always regarded that with pride. We were the first immigrants. And that made me, Jacob Smith, the descendant from a proud lineage of true Americans. I was the most American of Americans.

Well, we don't really live on the East Coast anymore. My family moved to California years ago, during the big Gold Rush. And stayed in a little town, until it became a ghost town...you know what? I might as well skip the story. We have a long history. Just know that we moved a couple months ago, and we were stuck on the outskirts of San Diego.

So there I was. The lone white kid, in an all Hispanic community. And I hated it there. I loathed it there. I abhorred it there.

It was always the same. At school, I was the only one. I was the only one with a last name like Smith. I was the only one with blonde, curling hair, and blue eyes, and perfect English. I was alone.

I thought I got picked on, of course. They all spoke their Spanish-y words with those Spanish-y accents. Like, ¿Cómo te llamas?* I got that a lot the first day there. I was sure that meant something bad. Maybe like, "Are you a llama?"

And after a while, the girls all started saying "Tu eres muy guapo."** I always smiled and nodded. I had no idea what they were saying. But I always figured they probably were making fun of me. "You are a fat kid." I can just imagine it. It doesn't seem out of their range...those freaky Spanish kids. I had thought they were probably all illegal immigrants anyway. They didn't come here like my family had, the first of the Americans.

I admit. I was scared of them. I was scared of seeing so many tanned, black-haired faces. I was scared of all the Linda Gonzalez's, and the Jorge Lopez's. I didn't see anyone like me. And I hated that.

Well, looking back...I misunderstood everything back then. And I had responded badly. "Shut up! I don't want to hear another stupid word out of your stupid mouths! All of you! Shut up!" I had shouted, after the bell rang so I wouldn't get in trouble with the teachers. "You're all so stupid! You're all stupid!"

Okay. Here I confess: I bullied them horribly. Every day. Every second. Nobody asked whether I was a "llama" again in Spanish. None of the girls giggled and pointed at me and told me I was a "fat kid" in their little Spanish-y voices. I had taken that as a good sign.

And then, one day, I was expelled. That was it. End of the story. All the kids' parents ganged up on me one day. They told the administration of my bullying. How I had punched others. How I threatened people. And now...I'm in juvie, writing this letter...to you, Mr. Judge.

And just to let you know, I met a really nice Hispanic kid here—his name was Juan Criado*. Criado meant servant. I thought that was sort of demeaning, but he was cool with it. And then, he told me why he had come to juvie. There was a white guy at his school, a lonely white kid. His name was Chris. And Chris had bullied them too. Chris was like me.

So Juan stood up one day. He and his friends fought Chris. Chris was killed. And Juan was charged with first degree murder for standing up. I asked whether he really did it, and he cried. A tough guy like him...he cried. He said he couldn't remember if it was him, or his friends, or whether the whole thing was a bad dream that he was going to wake up from. But Chris was dead. Everything was a whole mistake.

I wish I hadn't bullied them. I wish I had stopped to understand. I wish I could go back and redo everything. Because Juan opened up new doors. He told me about his parents, who were nice people. They weren't aggressive. He loved his parents. Before juvie, when he came home, he would speak another language to his parents, because they didn't understand English. And they would eat yummy Spanish food, and play a little soccer, and his dad would come in with a flamenco guitar and play a couple tunes and his mom would dance and they would all clap together.

My family was American. But we never were a family like Juan's. They come home, and they eat Hispanic food. They drink water from the municipal aquifer. But they have two cultures—two worlds that made them unique.

I come home, I eat the same food, fresh from the Spanish vendors. I drink the same water, tapped from the same aquifer. But what did I have?

Only one heritage.



P.S. I know that this won't change anything. I know that I am sentenced, and that I cannot get out of juvie without appeal. But I just wanted to let you know my story. If you could, could you tell everyone about this? I wouldn't want any more people like me going around making life harder for immigrants. And to anyone with prejudices—please know that it's both hard and great to live a life with two cultures. Just ask Juan.

*All names are made up. Any real people in juvie with these names are coincidences.

**"¿Cómo te llamas?" means "What is your name?"

***"Tu eres muy guapo" means "You're really handsome."

Julia on Life Between Cultures
The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is trying to discover and maintain that perfect amalgam between the two. Both countries can claim me, but I cannot fully claim either country; I can only struggle to search for my own little niche that incorporates my heritage and my birthplace. Coming from an immigrant family isn't terrible, however—straddling two lands also means that I get to experience both cultures!

Photo Credit: Look Into My Eyes via Creative Commons