*Trigger Warning: this publication discusses instances of discrimination, racism, homophobia, and struggles with mental health.
The following are all the pieces submitted for consideration in 2021. Not all submissions made it to the printed edition, however they all made it to this online version of Our Voices.
- Fake Latina by Enola Hernandez (Class of 2023)
- No Soy Ella / I Am Not Her by Gemma Del Carmen (Class of 2022)
- A Reflection by Jakob Anthony Rosario (Class of 2021)
- Grounded by Sophia Marsden (Class of 2021)
- Untitled by Myciah Brown (Class of 2022)
- Do Not Forget by Kelly Woodson (Class of 2022)
- Shades of Colors by Krishna Najjar (Class of 2022)
- La Carretera by Fatima Vasquez-Molina (Class of 2023)
- A Letter to the "Uncommon" Student at Catholic U by Brayan Hernandez (Class of 2022)
- Las Dos Lenguas Mias / My Two Tongues by Noelia Veras (Class of 2021)
- A Better Place by Valeria Vega Herrera (Class of 2022)
- Searching by Ryan Soriano (Class of 2021)
- Under Sunlight, We Will Free Our Minds by Arielle Montencer (Class of 2022)
- Mariposa by Cindy Cintron (Class of 2023)
- Excerpt from An Essay From An Unwelcome Student by Sean Devlin (Class of 2021)
- What Is It Like To Be Queer At Catholic? - Anonymous
- The Day by Esther Andreina Paulino (Class of 2022)
- Untitled by Madeline Mustin
- Es Más Que Un Uniforme / More Than A Uniform by Lizetthe Moreno
- An Other In a Sea of Lovers - Anonymous
- Kawalan by justine rae talamayan (Class of 2022)
- The Scars We Bear by Zach Mauro (Class of 2021)
- Winter's Mortal Reciprocity by Bro. Cristofer Fernández, OFM Conv.
- Untitled by Daneev Imbert (Class of 2024)
- Giving Voice To The Voiceless by Nadia Carlino
- I Belong by Regla Garcia (Class of 2024)
- My Friend, What Do You Think of When I Say Identity? by Sophia Marsden
- Photographs by Kayla Tingley Renaudin (Class of 2024)
- Art by Bernard Barillo (Class of 2021)
- Art by Anonymous
Every time I hear those words, the stitching that holds me together breaks.
The thread unravels and suddenly my identity sits as a pile of knots with me trying to untangle them so I can remember who I am.
My identity is a beautiful dress deemed as a knock-off of the Vera Wangs in this Vogue Fashion Week world.
The fabric of my life is not good enough.
So my ripped dress floats in the Atlantic Ocean, one half drifting to the States, the other to Dominican Republic, both red, white, and blue and yet I can’t be either.
I am too American to be Dominican and too Hispanic to be American.
If I cannot have material, then what can I wear?
Who am I?
Quiero ser ella.
Rubia, chiquitita, blanca, con ojos azules,
Con la piel tan pálida y al ras como las flores de cerezo en la primavera,
Pelo nunca demasiado ensortijado o indomable, siempre perfectamente liso.
Compuesta, reservada, nunca demasiado, estoico, predecible, como una máquina.
Ella es todo lo que siempre quisiste y yo quiero ser ella.
Pero eso, eso es imposible.
Soy demasiado ruidosa,
Mi pelo tiene una mente propia,
Estoy desordenada y caótica,
Mi piel tiene pigmento, no soy ninguna talla cero,
Maldigo demasiado, hablo con pasión,
¿Pero yo? yo valgo algo también,
Ya no quiero ser ella,
Prefiero ser yo, amarme, y no tenerte.
I want to be her.
Blonde, petite, white, blue eyed,
With skin as pale and flush as cherry blossoms in the springtime,
Hair never too frizzy or unwieldy, always perfectly straight.
Composed, reserved, never too much,
Calculated, predictable, like a machine.
She’s all you’ve ever wanted and I want to be her.
But that, that is impossible.
I am far too loud.
My hair has a mind of its own.
I am messy and chaotic.
My skin has pigment; I'm no size zero.
I curse too much, I speak with passion.
But me? I am worth something too.
I no longer want to be her.
I’d rather be me, love me, and not have you.
I arrived on this campus in the Fall of 2017: suitcases packed to the brim with as much stuff as I could bring from back home almost 8,000 miles away. My dad cautiously drove through CUA so he wouldn’t miss any stops. I think I was in front with him, giving him directions and helping him guess which streets we were supposed to turn. In the back seat, my sisters were studiously playing their video games while my mom nervously waited as her oldest and only son started a journey that she could only accompany from afar.
I got into a fight with my mom the night they left after dropping me off. We went to the mall to do some shopping before they left DC. We fought about sunglasses. I bought these expensive pair of sunglasses and my mom got mad. It was a stupid thing to fight about but in moments like these, right before huge changes, the fights are never really about the sunglasses.
We fight a lot, me and my mom. She likes to say that it’s because we’re very similar. One thing we’ve never fought about, the one thing that we’ve had surprisingly amiable discussions on, is religion. Our faith. Or at least hers, I think. My mom is a Catholic through and through. She did her undergrad in Philosophy and is the only one amongst her siblings to have her masters, an M.A. in (surprise) Theology. She loves her ministry. She does marriage ministry: with my dad, they counseled couples who are about to get married and even keeps up with them after their weddings. She taught Theology to different generations of women at my high school’s sister school, even managing to teach some of my friends. It’s surprising to my friends, then, how different my attitudes towards Church are.
I don’t go to Church now, not as much as I did living with my parents. It was initially laziness and apathy but the more I didn’t practice this faith, the more I observed discrepancies between my values, my beliefs, and what I perceived the Church to be. I understood the Church through the people who claimed to represent it. My last high school theology teacher was cocky and homophobic. He made you feel stupid trying to learn and grow in the faith. I was on multiple occasions in the presence of people who used religion to justify their narrow-minded and fearful worldview. The complicity, the silence to those voices only made them louder. It saddened and disappointed me. How could I affiliate with something that’s represented by people who wield their faith with hate and bigotry? Or with people who gatekeep the faith with inaccessible, rigid “scholarship” used as a cover for a fragile ego?
At the same time, the most prominent Catholic in my life was (and still is) my mom. My mom reconciled her faith with her love and understanding for members of the LGBTQ+ community. My mom would also push back on Islamophobic thoughts and ideas brought by her Catholic friends. My mom was my first introduction to allyship and in my own home at that. I couldn’t live my faith knowing how I felt about these issues like she could. How could this wonderful woman be affiliated with a Church I’ve grown to think of as hateful? Initially, I held a lot of anger towards my mom as a way of, I think, resolving that imbalance: Even if she doesn’t misrepresent her faith, she belongs to it, and I should treat her as if she does. I now know she doesn’t, and I know where my mom stands but I still choose not to practice it. I’ve chosen a path that doesn’t require cognitive rigor of practicing my faith and believing what I believe.
My mom prays that I’ll come back to the Church. I think she should keep trying because it might be working. During the entire Abby Johnson debacle on-campus, when I wasn’t angry with the situation, I was impressed by a campus full of Catholics who stood against the racism and bigotry that I came to know the Church as. After listening to Dr. Ansel Augustine and Ms. Leticia Ochoa Adams, ideals I had once perceived as hypocritical were framed truthfully, holistically, beautifully. It was the Catholic faith of my mother: loving, wise, nuanced, inclusive, complex in its thinking, and self-aware. After that talk I reached out to Ms. Adams, to Dr. Augustine, whose name reminds me of the son that St. Monica prayed for.
I don’t think I’m going to be coming back to the Church anytime soon. There are some things I don’t necessarily agree with still and I’ve got a lot of reflecting and contemplating about my faith if I want to go back. Years ago, I never would’ve admitted that. I never would’ve thought I was on a faith journey. I would’ve rolled my eyes at the thought of that. Even now, I still hesitate to admit that. But I’ve learned to approach my faith gently and cautiously, knowing how I let it hurt me, but without reproach, knowing that it can help me make peace, if I want it to.
I have one foot in, and one foot out. Both are rooted, and I feel stuck. One foot is grounded in the community I love. This community has strong roots in education, academia, and coalition. I serve this community, I have friends in this community, and I am elected within this community. I am elected to serve everyone, including those who have opinions I view as violent. I write legislation to advocate and to serve, to lead with love and to build. I am grounded, here, in my sense of service and love.
I have my other foot so far out, I'm in a split. My other foot is grounded in anger and confusion. I am bisexual, in a community where that is a sin. I am bisexual, in a community where voting for bigotry is normalized. I am a student leader, in that community. I am torn; how do I reckon with serving those who turn a blind eye to my safety. How can I have respect as a leader, when to them I don't deserve respect as a person?
I am grounded as one person in two different places. I am grounded in love. But I'm in a split, and it's hard to keep unity in the back of my mind. Despite this, I exist. I am here. I am a leader. I am grounded.
My biggest realization in college is that women like me apologize too much. We apologize if we are late, early, on time, made the mistake, watched the mistake happen, told the person that they were probably going to make the mistake, or my personal favorite, we had nothing to do with it. I am not sure when this happened but we are raised to believe every single thing that has happened is in our control. We are conditioned to think that everything is our fault. Well, allow me to burst your bubble: it isn’t.
We are the daughters of hell raisers. Our ancestors picked up earth and made it move even when the pain became an unbearable load. We are the daughters of risk takers. Our ancestors struck when the coal was too expensive to make the iron hot. We are the daughters of innovators. The Ancestors made names for us out of windy waters and sounds that only God can create. We have much more to offer the world than apologies that don't belong to us.
This is your reminder to take up as much space as possible. Be larger than life as long as life permits. Apologize when necessary, be thankful always. This produces a life worth living and not one of simply existing. Release all of that guilt that is not yours to bear. Women like us don't get as much time to be who we are and be that well, so don't waste your time apologizing.
Do Not Forget that I am not only a student
I am a Black student
I am a Black woman who is a student
Who has to speak to herself before entering class
Who has to understand that she may be the only one in her class
Who has to figure out words that best “censor” her speech
Who has to constantly reassure herself that she is worth so much
Who has to understand that many will claim they will stand with her but only on social media
Who has to work 4x harder than the person next to her due to the color of her skin
Who has to constantly speak on being Black and not seeing change
Do Not Forget
With all of these hardships
She will continue to be strong
She will continue to stand tall
She will continue to learn to love herself
She will continue to fight for her brothers and sisters
She will continue when continuing is the only option in life.
I stand with all those who are powerful and have been stripped of their power
Dream of the end. The end of the never-ending fighting between shades of flesh
Ever-growing rage between not knowing and not wanting darkness in the world
Now is not the time to cower, now is the time to show the mass we are not a mess
Together we are strong, belonging with those and standing up to those who say we are wrong
Inclusion does not mean seclusion in those who do not agree
Together with the ones who are opposed and those who oppose
You are a person, We are the people
Thinking beyond the immediate, to yearn for the long term
Having open minds and ears like our school doors and chairs, to be heard and to learn
Reason comes through the mind craving knowledge
Only through our known, can we teach those who fear, claiming it as their unknown
Unlike the generations before, we have access to Twitter, Snapchat and more
Gathering the courage, the knowledge, the information all to change the path of Justice
Here together can we establish tranquility, as a United Society
Varying ideals of glory and success
Our voices are the cause for change, forming a notion to a motion
I stand with all those who are powerful and have been stripped of their power
Create a path of success for all of our neighbors, our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our mothers
Establish prosperity for those who love all shades of us, with all our beautiful colors.
The road I walk has never been easy.
Full of rocks, stones, shards and baches(2) every step of the way.
A road unpaved.
Filled with nagging comments people have told me.
That my brown skin was never destined for success.
That I am not worth it.
These rocks become boulders. Boulders ready to squish me at any moment.
The road becomes unbearable -
Dust and dirt fill my eyes, making me blind to the troubles ahead.
Las tias(3) telling me always “¿Y el novio pa cuando(4)?”
The news telling me, people are attacking tú gente(5) left and right,
I’m stuck, trying to prove myself to everyone just because I’m a mujer y morenita(6) -
There is no place to hide.
There is no option to fail or turn back.
I sit down and look at my feet filled with bruises and scars from the road unpaved,
I clean the sweat off my forehead and notice something next to me
It is a florecita(7) growing strong and beautiful in between the cracks of the road.
“How have you not been squished florecita?”
Then I think to myself “How are you not squished yet?”
You have dodged boulders on this road.
You have endured the horrible conditions on this road.
And yet, you are still standing.
No florecita would ever dare to sprout in a place like this,
No florecita would survive for so long on a road like this.
And yet the florecita is still growing.
No one would dare to walk this road,
No one would endure, let alone survive this road.
And yet you are still walking.
The florecita’s roots are strong and sturdy.
Just like her, your raíces(8) keep you strong against the odds.
Her petals shine bright against the unpaved road.
You are shining bright in the midst of the struggles.
She is alive and growing.
Y como ella(9), you have become a florecita on the unpaved road.
1 Carretera: Road | 2 Baches: Potholes | 3 Las Tias: The aunts | 4 Y el novio pa cuando?: When the boyfriend? | 5 Tú gente: Your people | 6 Mujer y morenita: Woman and brown | 7 Florecita: Little Flower | 8 Raíces: Roots | 9 Y como ella: And just like her
I address this letter to the ‘uncommon student’ at Catholic U. Reading the word ‘uncommon’ would make anyone reading this question to themselves: “Am I an uncommon student?”. One may even wonder what I mean by the 'uncommon' student. The notion of the ‘uncommon’ student refers to students of color who come from a background that was separated from white individuals and that was shaped by a low-socioeconomic background. I make up a minority of the uncommon students on campus, and this is my letter to you:
After I came to this country at the age of nine; I have had the pleasure of calling DC my home ever since. I am proud to say that I am a product of the DC Public Schools, and that before college I did not attend a single school outside of DCPS. I had never been in a classroom with white students until I got to college. Nothing can replace the broad range of cultures, ideas, music, rap battles, lunch joaning sessions, and friendships that I experienced throughout middle school and high school. What stood out about this experience is that there were two common denominators among my peers: you were either black or brown, and you were poor, or your family had enough just to get by. This was common for me before Catholic U. This was truly my world, and I enjoyed it. I would give everything to be back in that setting because it is what shaped my identity and gave me my passion. I would never say that the white students on campus shaped my identity because they never have, they never did, and they never will. The love and respect that I have developed for my community are irreplaceable as I, a poor immigrant boy in the heart of the nation, tackled undiscovered grounds with the help of my DC community. The amount of support that I received from my Black and Latino peers is something that will resonate with me forever. I take pride in saying that I understand the people that many look down upon today, primarily because I’ve been in that position, or I have had friends or family of friends who have been in that position. Therefore, I understand the dynamics of the position they are in, and I know how to help; I know not to judge, but to care, and to extend my hand for help when necessary. I am not afraid of poverty because I grew up in it and has been a rampant aspect of my life.
I am not alone in being able to cope and understand these factors. This is why I dedicate my letter to you. We don’t need research or studies to understand what is happening to our communities, or what are the factors that cause social complications and changes in our society. Our experiences in our communities have exposed this, and we learned not only to cope with what is impacting but also to understand how to protect others with the struggles that we share. This is what truly makes us uncommon and makes us an unique group at Catholic U.
My challenge for you, fellow uncommon students, is to remember your childhood memories, the community that you grew up in, and the people who have helped your brain realize and work when you say, “I am from…” or “I grew up in…”. The transition of being in an entirely black and brown scenario before college was enjoyable and has shaped us into who we are today. The introduction to a predominantly white institution has shaped how we see the world, how we interact with our friends and has separated us from the community that once brought us up and called us friends, students, brothers, and sisters. I call on you to not forget your roots because, at the end of the day, they are proud of you. They are proud that you took the step that many could not take and could not afford to take. They are proud that you overcame the statistics that place many black and brown students like us at a significant rate of failure, and more importantly, they are proud to know that they were the ones that you identify as crucial to the shaping of your identity. My call to action for the uncommon student is this: Never forget. Never forget about every individual who believed in you before college, and never forget to give back. Giving back to the community we once called home is just another way of saying I love you. I love you for everything that you have done for me, and I will return your love, compassion, and effort despite how I have changed since you raised me.
We are deeply challenged as one of the greatest minority groups at Catholic U. Despite these challenges we have to learn how to persevere, to come together, and to support each other. The road is long for some of us, some of us are almost done, but despite where you are, keep in mind the people who are supporting you. In times of struggles and challenges always ask yourself: Who am I doing this for, and why? These questions are going to be a step into your mind’s passion to help the community that raised you. Dear uncommon student, this is my open letter to you. I hope that as a group we can give back to our communities so that we can empower the communities that we were raised in.
Yo nací con mi boca arriba
Apparently I was drooling, wiggling my toes
Mi papa me atrapó en el aire cuando iba
At least he says that's how the story goes
Cuando yo era niña pequeña yo hablaba solo en español
But then I got older and moved to another country
Los dos lugares bajo del brutal calor del sol
I suppose the move for me didn’t happen happily
Cuando yo era adolescente yo hablaba solo en inglés
I was ashamed at my lack of prowess with Spanish
El idioma de mi gente, el idioma mi niñez
So I dedicated myself to never let it vanish
Siempre trato de conectarme con mis raíces
But it so hard for some reason
Sinceramente me duele hablar a veces
Sometimes, I wish the words were in
English but that feels like treason
Supongo que todavía hablo español porque mi vida no es solo mia
It's the culmination, really, of my ancestors
Y es mi deber, entonces, honrarlos cada día
So perhaps this duality will continue with my successors
Así que en varios años veremos que pasara
Con la cultura de mis antepasados y que se tratara de
Las dos lenguas mías
Mis dos culturas contradictorias
I was born with an open mouth in the air
Apparently I was drooling, wiggling my toes
My father caught me in the air
At least he says that's how the story goes
When I was a young girl I spoke in Spanish exclusively
But then I got older and moved to another country
Both places under the the sun burning so brutally
I suppose the move for me didn’t happen happily
When I was an adolescent I spoke English exclusively
I was ashamed at my lack of prowess with Spanish
The language of my people, the language of my childhood
So I dedicated myself to never let it vanish
I always try to be in touch with my roots
But it's so hard for some reason
Honestly it hurts to speak it sometimes
Sometimes, I wish the words were in
English but that feels like treason
I suppose I still speak Spanish because my life is not only mine
It's the culmination, really, of my ancestors
And it's my duty to honor them every day
So perhaps this will continue with my successors
So years from know we shall see what happens With my ancestors’ culture and what will be of
My two tongues
My two contradictory cultures
There once lived a kind young girl named Ana. Her skin was sunkissed and her eyes were round like almonds. Her lips red like the roses that grew in her garden, and her hair brown like the soil from which they sprung. She was loved by her parents, who owned a small coffee farm in the mountains, and all three of them worked together and lived in harmony. Until they didn't...That young girl was me, and this is my story.
One day, when I had just turned ten, I woke up and went out into the field like I did every morning. I could feel that there was something wrong, so I called my father over to take a look at the leaves. “They’re sick. They're all sick,” he said after looking at every single plant in the field, with a look of concern on his face. He said that there was no saving any of them, and that we had to find something else to provide for us until the next harvest. My mother and father looked for jobs for over a year, all with no success. We had no choice but to leave our beloved farm.
My mother’s friend had told us about this prosperous land, where we could get another farm and our crops would never ever get sick. I wanted to stay in the farm that I knew as my home, but I knew that could not happen. My father had instructions on where to go written down in a small piece of paper, but none of us knew the path to the land. We got on a bus for many hours, and it brought us closer to our destination, but we would have to walk most of the way there. When the bus came to a stop, my mother took us to her sister’s house and said we would rest there for the night. I could hear them whispering to each other in the next room, and my mother kept saying that it was too dangerous for a little girl like me. At the time, I did not have the slightest clue as to what she was talking about, but I would find out soon enough. My aunt offered to take me in while my parents made the journey, but my father said that they could not lose their biggest treasure. They kept talking about this trip, but I was too tired and anxious to keep listening and I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up the next day and had one last meal with my family before we set out again. We walked for hours under the hot sun with very little water. We were exhausted and I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong for my family. Just when I thought I could not walk any longer, we reached a dense forest and later, a river. Mom looked at me and said, “this is going to be very scary, but you need to be strong. We will be happy again once we get to the other side.” I was terrified, but I chose to believe what my mother said, and a sense of bravery came over me. Three strange men appeared from within the trees, and I saw my dad give them the little money we had left. “Come with me, child” said the smallest of the three. I looked over at my parents and they nodded reassuringly, so I did as he said. He put me in some floating device, and got in another one next to me. “Hang tight and be very quiet. If you say anything, all of us will die” he instructed. I saw my parents do the same, and the six of us went into the river.
I was in so much fear that I closed my eyes for a long time. When I opened them, my parents were no longer there, and I could not see anything except water. I began to panic, but a fish swam up from the depths of the river up to the surface, and looked at me. “Don’t be scared little Ana, I can help if you wish” said the fish. Up to that point in my life, I had never heard a fish talking, so I stayed quiet out of shock. “Well? Do you want to drown or not?” said the fish, looking at me once again very intensely. “I guess not…” I remember saying, and the fish stared at me before getting behind my floating device and pushing me to the shore on the other side. I looked over at the fish when I was on dry land and thanked it. “Not a problem little Ana. Be very careful, and if you ever need my help again, all you have to do is find water and call me over. I will come to your aid” it said, before swimming back to the depths of the river.
I watched it swim away, but was still very confused as to how a fish could talk and how it knew my name. I glanced around to see if my parents had made it across, but I could not find them. I decided to wait for them for a few hours, but they never came. I thought to myself that maybe they kept going after they crossed, so I walked away from the river hoping to catch a glimpse of them, but never did.
This new land that I was in was very different from my home. As I walked, I could hear people screaming in anger and people screaming in fear. I remember hearing loud bangs, and wolves howling. It was dark, and the further I got from the river, the less dense the foliage became, leaving me exposed to whoever or whatever was making all those horrible noises. It was also getting increasingly colder, and a light layer of cold white stuff was covering the ground. My hands were turning blue, and I could not feel my face. Everything hurt. Suddenly, I felt something being pulled over my head, and I could not see anything. I felt people grabbing me, and I was thrown into the floor of a moving car. There were many people talking and I could barely make out what they were saying. I heard words like “alien” and “intrusor” along with angry grunts and sounds of disbelief.
The car was warm, and even though I was shaking in fear, I was glad that I was no longer freezing. I was not warm and comfortable for very long, because the car came to an abrupt stop, and I was roughly dragged out of it by my arms. I was back to being in a lot of pain. I felt something hairy shoving me into an enclosed space, and I was suddenly flying until I hit something hard and cold that knocked the wind out of me. It took me a little to recover, and I slowly sat up and removed the bag from over my head. I was shivering, either from fear or the cold, and took in my surroundings. The first thing I noticed was that everything was covered in ice, and everything was dark. Then, I noticed the bars enclosing me into the room made of ice. Behind the bars stood a creature. It was tall and scary, and covered in white fur. Its eyes were bluer than the ice, and it stared at me through the darkness in a way that made me nauseous with terror. My vision went completely dark again, but this time nothing was covering my eyes.
When I woke up, it was no longer dark. Light flooded the icy room, and I had never felt more cold in my life. The cold was deep in my bones. I was also hungry and thirsty. I stood up and tried to find someone. Anyone. “Hello? Can anyone hear me?” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Someone, please! I’m hungry and cold and thirsty! Someone please help me!” I tried once more. “Shh. You’re in our custody now, intruder. You will get fed once a day and someone will bring you a blanket” someone yelled back. I could not see them, but I was too tired to yell back. Many hours later, the same creature with the blue eyes came back, but this time he had a cup with something, a plate with bread and a blanket. He opened the door made of bars, and I cowered to the furthest corner. He put everything on the floor, looked at me with disgust, closed the door and left. Once I was sure he was gone, I slowly moved towards the bread and the blanket. I grabbed the blanket first, but it was thinner than the clothes I had on. Almost see through. I wanted to cry, but I knew I had to be strong. I moved on to the bread, but it was moldy and hard. I looked at the cup with my watery eyes, and remembered what the fish had said to me.
As long as I had water, I could call for help. I reached for it, hoping and praying that it would be water, but because it was so cold, it had already frozen. I could not keep it together any longer, and I broke down and cried until I fell asleep. When I opened my eyes, I had five seconds of bliss before it all came rushing back. The memories of me being in that cage for days. Maybe even weeks. I’m not sure how I had survived the cold, but the creatures were always careful to not give me water. I barely had the energy to move, but I somehow sat up. I felt a lot of pain in my abdomen, so I looked down and found that I was sitting in a pool of blood. It was that time of the month. I did not have any other clothes, or any products to put on. With the little energy I had left, I moved closer to the bars and said “Please. I need clothes and pads. Please let me clean up. Please” from far away, a voice replied “You should have thought of that before you crossed that river, you filthy alien”. I did not know what that meant, but I knew nobody was going to help me. I cried the little water that I had left in my body, and curled up on the floor hanging on to dear life to the thin blanket that was now too, stained with blood. I cried for my parents, who I never found, I cried for my warm home, I cried for the mountains and the coffee fields, I cried for what I once had and took for granted. I cried until I felt myself drift off, but this time I knew I would not be opening my eyes again.
Let’s meet somewhere outside of belonging.
where the waves meet the grains of sand
on the night sky that touches the soul
as tomorrow rises above the sleeping land
while fireflies dance in the night
sometime between each candlelit wish
somewhere between each dimple and scar
somehow between each wrinkle on your lips
I'll meet you there.
Without saying, we both know where.
Let's meet somewhere on the creases of your hand
between the euphoria of your laughter
while the moon shines on your sweetest smile
Let's meet somewhere where we can call
ever since you were set upon this earth,
the very day when the sun’s rays first set upon you,
reaching out so far
to touch your skin and to give you
the warmth now reflected in your complexion:
you were told that you could never be beautiful.
several hundred years ago, they came to us
taking the land, taking the lives of our people
taking away our way of thinking,
while replacing that with their ownintoxicating
us with a way of thinking that
taught us to neglect and throw away our traditions
they taught us to hate ourselves
and in the process of doing so
we forget our indigenous brothers and sisters
day after day after day
paano na sila?(1)
it’s like we turned our backs
to the people we used to be,
we turned our backs on being Filipino.
we supposedly got our independence long ago
but our minds have yet to see the light from Apolaki (2)
so I say this to you now:
no longer will we devalue ourselves
according to a standard that was meant
to keep us from realizing our own power
so pick up that crown buried in the earth of our motherland
wear it high atop your head
with your golden brown skin glowing brightly
sa ilalim sa sikat ng araw (3)
1 what about them? | 2 God of the sun in Filipino mythology | 3 underneath the sunlight
Have you ever thought about what a butterfly looked like as a caterpillar? That glorious transformation, metamorphosis, is something we all look for everyday of our lives. Today, we call it the “glow up” but I think metamorphosis suits my story better. From the age of thirteen to eighteen years old, the metamorphosis that I desperately wanted to occur, and painstakingly tried to force, was within my skin color. For reference, I am Hispanic (specifically Puerto Rican and Dominican), and I have light brown skin. On most documents I proclaim my race as black and my ethnicity as Hispanic but there was a long moment in my life where answering that question was much more difficult than I’d like to admit.
I grew up in an extremely white town and this was a defining factor for me. I was not much darker than my peers but at the time, it felt like I had the darkest skin anyone had ever seen. I was bullied in elementary school for reasons still somewhat foreign to me but one thing the bully preyed on was my ethnicity. “I wish you’d just go back to live in the hut in Mexico that you came from” is the statement that will stick with me forever. Looking back, I laugh at the moment because I was not hurt by the meaning of the words, rather the fact that I was misidentified as Mexican rather than Dominican and Puerto Rican. I was raised to be very proud of my heritage and I claimed the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as home, so when they said Mexico, I was hurt because I didn’t even come from there! Such a minute detail but it really hurt me. Snags like that came as time passed. As a little caterpillar, I hadn’t experienced enough of the world to know that there would be so many people excited to me squirm, but I was learning fast.
I grew to hate my skin tone. The hatred of my skin color did not come from a place of self-loathing caused by bullies but from my own sense of not belonging. I was too dark to fit in with my white friends and I was too light to fit in with the few black friends I had. As I got older, I did depressing things to change my skin. Hiding from the sun at all costs, attempting to lighten and bleach my skin, praying to God for lighter skin, and even putting lightening filters on all of my photos. I did not want to have light brown skin.
While I tried to shed my brown layers in the last few stages of being a caterpillar, a wrench was thrown in. I no longer understood who I was trying to be, and it grew from my lack of understanding the difference between race and ethnicity. My white friends were American and the black people I knew were described as African-American thus implying they had connections to Africa. I did not feel connected to America since my parents were immigrants and I thought there was no connection to Africa because my parents were not African. I felt no connection to either category and no one ever explained to me who I was or where I came from. I was told I am Hispanic but then bubbling for the PSAT came around and there was no Hispanic option in the race section. I had to ask for help because I had never encountered that problem before nor ever had to answer what my race is without the option of Hispanic being there. This moment in my life sparked the desire to not be in the middle but to be white. I thought white was beautiful and what everyone wanted because it was all that surrounded me. When I hung out with girls who were black and my age, I could not relate to them at all. Black culture felt so different from the two cultures I had been raised around and I did not want to be associated with the race that seemed so different from who I felt I was.
Years went by as I tried to ignore my skin tone and “focus” on my identity, but I chose “academic” as my identity. I threw myself into schoolwork, extracurriculars, and becoming the best person I could be on my resume. While I dove into my new persona, my older sister embraced her racial ancestry and claimed her “blackness”. My sister’s actions truly baffled me because we had never been raised in or introduced to African-American culture, so why would she take part in it? I judged her but was secretly jealous of her ability to be so comfortable in her own skin. I was so stuck in my stage of metamorphosis that I put a wall between my sister and I until I made it to college.
Freshman year, I was meeting people from all around the country with very different backgrounds. We talked about race, ethnicity, and our struggles in life as people of color. The more I talked with other people of color and took the time to understand what race and ethnicity are, I grew to understand myself better. One night, I spread my wings with my friends and wore a bright yellow top with my hair all natural for a night out on the town. I had always shied away from yellow because my skin would pop so much and loathed my curly hair because someone always made comments about it. That night, I only felt confidence and freedom, no reluctance. I went from always suppressing such a large part of me to openly embracing me!
My metamorphosis began freshman year of college, I learned about the true colors of my wings and how far they will take me. While I may not have fully emerged from my chrysalis, I am working on it. I am Dominican and Puerto Rican with light brown skin. I have African ancestry and that is where I get my beautiful chocolate skin from. I learn from my ancestors and peers about how to take care of my skin, hair, and all other parts of my physical attributes portraying my race and ethnicity. I learn from myself and close friends or family on how to take care of my soul, heart, and mind. When I emerge from my chrysalis as a full grown butterfly, I want people to wonder what I looked like as a caterpillar because the journey was long but very worth it.
“By the time college had started, I had come out to my friends and my sister. The idea of telling the rest of my family was never even a thought. I truly believed I would take that secret to my grave. But, I started college and decided there was no reason to hide myself here. So with anyone I met I made no effort to hide myself. Why should I care what someone I do not know thinks of me? Nobody said we had to be friends and it is not like they knew any of my family members to “out” me or something. What I found interesting was the response from my peers. Often it was supportive or the conditional support that goes “Oh, well, I support you because you’re my friend, but morally because of my faith I can’t support you,” or the go to “love the sinner, not the sin.” It is kind of like a backhanded compliment in the way that someone says “oh, you’re pretty considering (insert biggest insecurity here).” The first time I heard that was from someone who I considered to be my friend, and I am still friends with this person today. However, it made me think, and I still think this, that I cannot actually count on my friend to be there for me and have my back when it comes to issues regarding my sexuality. So even though I have friends, I still feel utterly alone, unsupported, and unheard.”
What is it even like to answer that question when I know that, for every professor who supports my queer identity, there are two more who will stand in front of their classroom and deny my existence to my face? Who will misgender me in emails and in front of my peers because gender-neutral pronouns are just “too hard” and “confusing.”
When I have to check if it’s okay to include my pronouns in my email signature or just delete them because it just isn’t worth explaining it. When I have to speak for all queer issues in class because I’m the “gay one” but it forces me to come out when I’m not always ready to. When this campus has been my home and place of safety for four years and yet I feel unsafe.
I wonder how many times I will personally be held responsible for explaining my existence to my classmates and professors, constantly putting myself and my identity on display for the world to gawk at when there are times that I feel unsure of myself.
I feel like an imposter sitting at my desk, explaining my perspective and experience over and over and over again, waiting for someone to call me out for my lack of knowledge or, even worse, roll their eyes at me because they don’t care about the life of some gay kids. I feel my heart in my throat and my eyes burn when I hear people push their friends around and call them “faggot” on campus because I remember the times that it was directed at me.
What is it like to be queer at Catholic?
we arrived at the scene
it's the crack of dawn
the bags in our eyes say it all
we parked a ways away
the crowds are consuming
bodies swarm the sidewalks and pile into the streets
we had to leave them behind
the time was ticking
we would be back soon and they’ll be waiting
hair straightened, face polished, clothes ironed
it was hot
I held my skirt from flowing in the wind
the five of us stood in line
my mom stood in anxiety
and my dad in joy
I couldn’t keep up with my heart
my siblings were getting angsty
the line was getting shorter
the sun had risen
we were up next
they padded us down and checked our bags
onto American soil
the land of the free
I wanted nothing more than to leave
We waited in lines
We waited in seats
We waited… for hours
We were prepared
And then we weren’t
It was almost our turn
I was sick to my stomach
This was it- the defining moment
And all I could was sit
It practically lived at the embassy
Here families came to determine their fate
It was seldom in their favor
I was tired
I was anxious
I couldn’t help to lose her again
There were so many people
Too much was going on, I just forget
I could see the judgement in their eyes
They didn’t care
Lunch break wasn’t for a few more hours
They were everywhere
They were everyone
I hoped they would stay together
I didn’t know what was going on
I didn’t know who these officers were
All I knew was fear
I prayed to God
For this, for her,
For the hundreds of cases around us
We were up
It was go time
Our number popped up on the screen
The lies that have become my life
The reason I was there
To make sure my siblings don’t slip up
So we weren’t prepared
We needed copies and I was out of money
A kind Samaritan
I did a lot of running
Time was ticking
The skirt couldn’t keep up
We stood at the booth
The picture perfect
We had to prove it
So we did
And I kept smiling
More faded memories
I forget again
I believe we sat down
Soon we were up for round two
This is it
These people were to determine the rest of my life
I held my breath in nervousness
A deep exhalation
Well she passed
I yelled and cried
It was time to go home
They were so ecstatic
I couldn’t help but remember those who weren’t so lucky
their tears haunt me
It was mid day
Our dreams had come through
We ran… again
They were there
Right were we left them
My beloved family
It was a joyous occasion
I felt joy deep inside
But the anxiety still lived
It was long
I was in shock
I threw up
I feel it as though it was yesterday
The experience lives on
At least now I can fight back
One day you’ll understand me
Who I am
My hopes & dreams & deepest secrets
The things I share with the world
And those I keep between
God and I
In my entirety
All of me
Bleary eyed and tear stained
Driving home on my own
Seized suddenly by the terrifying grip
Of feeling utterly alone.
Flying down 79
Not daring to count the miles
Lips already forming my well-rehearsed line
With syllables that dishonestly ebb and flow
Easy to dish out time and time again-
But the gray sky devoid of sunshine
Heightened my gloom and preened my pride
So this is what those highway drives in the moonlight supposedly look like...
Who’d have thought the headlights could blur and swirl like so?
Who’d have known that time would both spiral and stand still?
The road that stretches on beckons me forth
Seducing me with eternity as I query everything and its worth
Not drunk in the slightest*
But inebriated with thoughts
Delirious with feelings
Dizzy with emotions
My body’s on autopilot, but my mind burns with questions
So many questions
Too many questions
Who am I? ...
Why am I here? ...
What do I do now? ...
If moonlight were a mirror, what would one lonely, little, lost girl see?...
What is her identity?
When loneliness loosened her steely grip,
I dried my eyes and drove on
Still questioning, but with lighter weight on my heart
And a heavier drive to purpose
To which the sublimity of life is intertwined
To which the connections to God, nature, and my neighbors are interwoven
With which I can face each and every day
Marveling at the mysteries I can never solve,
Embracing the ethereal small beauties I can always see,
With which I am feeling nothing short of being utterly blessed.
Utterly, messily, perfectly imperfect me.
*Author’s Note: This line was written for the purpose of metaphorical comparison. I do not condone drinking and driving under any circumstance!
Dos ojos, dos brazos, dos piernas y un corazón. Hoy lo tengo todo, pero con cuál razón?
Mientras unos respiran con tanto ardor,
Otros se duchan con el poder de causar tanto dolor.
Hoy tengo dos ojos, dos brazos, dos piernas y un corazón. Pero será que estoy dispuesta a perderlo todo por mi pasión?
Mi mamá siempre me dijo que los hijos son prestados. Y la verdad es que todos estamos cansados.
Intento demostrar valor,
Pero temo que voy a causar más dolor
El cansancio me está matando.
Ver a mis compañeros caer me esta espantando.
Mi rifle se pone más pesado con cada paso que doy.
Pero yo sé que de pronto solo tengo hoy.
Si yo no sigo, yo no como.
Sé que el precio va a ser caro.
Porque la Guerra no es gratis.
¿Que tal que me cobre
o mi corazón?
Con solo una bala me convierto en una memoria.
Una más, entre miles que intentaron de hacer historia.
Solo quiero mantener mis dos ojos, dos brazos, dos piernas y mi Corazón.
Pero en Guerra, a veces uno muere sin razón.
Two eyes, two arms, two legs, one heart. I have them today, but why?
Meanwhile, there are people who breathe with such difficulty,
And others who revel in their power and cause such pain.
Today I have two eyes, two arms, two legs, one heart. But am I willing to lose it all for my passion?
My mother always told me that children are borrowed. And the truth is we are all tired.
I try being brave.
But I fear causing more pain.
The exhaustion is killing me.
Seeing my peers fall is scaring me.
My rifle is getting heavier each step I take.
But I know I only have today.
If I don’t keep going,
I don’t eat.
If I stop,
I know the price will be high.
Because war is not free.
What if it costs me,
With just one bullet, I become a memory.
Just another one among thousands who tried to make history.
I just want to keep my two eyes, my two arms, my two legs, and my heart.
But sometimes in war, you die without reason.
Yesterday I started crying at the pharmacy
It got to the point where I could hardly see
I was picking up my medicine in slippers
And I didn’t expect to see her
I was hiding a couple of aisles away
And I saw a stuffed bear left a astray
It had a rainbow pattern and, I don't know
I think seeing her, and seeing it was a blow
A blow to my ego, a blow to my shame
Two things I don’t dare declaim
But I’m in love with them more than her
And maybe guilt lives in this blur
In this world between me and a woman
That I refuse to be with lest I summon
The army of killers and disappointed parents
The gravel in my mouth the antidepressants
I don’t want to be with you because
I don't want to make you suffer
I don't want to be the cause
Of making us an other
A fleck of yellow in tall grass
A grinding flute behind the bass
A lazy eye on a pretty face
A crooked hill in a flat place
I want to be alone happily
Indefinitely and indestructibly
Myself in a sea of others
Not an other in a sea of lovers.
to my indigenous ancestors,
I am sorry for your loss.
our beautiful culture was taken and made anew,
it was created to honor a foreigner and
in the present we are unable to honor you,
our captivating, unique ancestors,
ang sakit ng puso ko. (2)
your spirits were destroyed.
the culture you built with your hands,
the hands of your hardwork and resilience
were barbaric. they were disgusting. they were manipulated
and broken to love another culture, that is ours now.
oh girl whose hair curls with the water
who gets asked, “how do you curl your hair?”
my response is, “it’s not me, it’s my ancestors.”
trying to find a semblance of acceptance.
fighting the stereotypes of the present.
oh refrain that we hear during the summer,
constantly begging, “i wish i can get tan like you”
and they don’t know that apolokai (3)
has kissed our skin,
blessing us with a sweet pigment.
yet in the homeland, they hide in the shadows.
but to the crowd that have pride in their looks,
who yearn to know more about our culture
who have not forgotten about our ancestors, and keep their spirit alive
maraming salamat. (4)
thank you for not losing to the generalization of asians.
and to my indigenous ancestors,
we will not lose again.
1 loss | 2 my heart hurts | 3 philippine sun god | 4 thank you so much
This poem speaks about the devastating loss in Philippine culture due to colonization; unfortunately, pre-colonial times are rarely spoken about or seen. In the mid-1500s all indigenous tribes were forced to live like their colonizers. This did not only mean that their lifestyles were changing, but their traditions as well because they believed that indigenous Filipinos were barbaric. During this time, many indigenous tribes also lost sacred objects and clothing because Spaniards wanted tribes to live exactly like them. Although there has been a great loss in Philippine culture, it is still preserved by many people who have sought out to learn more and wish to honor their ancestors.
Throughout life we will create a river of tears,
That will feed the seeds to our success,
There is beauty in every fear,
A masterpiece with every mess,
The seas of pain, the cold dark nights,
Will sail you to an oasis,
Just look up towards the stars light,
Every goal set will be faced by life’s test,
We study through loose as failure teaches best,
When you feel alone do not fall but take a stand,
create your own story, a masterpiece only you will understand.
I find purpose through a mother who can’t walk,
A grandfather who passed too soon,
The tears I’ve shed,
Have helped my garden bloom,
My garden of roses, the thorns that have left me scarred,
They showed me life is human, it’s as imperfect as we all are,
Yet life is filled with love, and despite the scars we bear,
We are all beautiful through both our happiness and despair.
Although the heat of his spring may not yet be here, we suppose Brother Sun’s fair radiant light is enough, enough to make one appreciate the crisp air, the cosmic inhale of a winter’s breath, the kind that contuits a sigh of the moist Life-Breath shared among brother and sister creatures, the kind Brother Wind caresses and conduces, the very kind our ancestors took in, the very same kind of which the Word partook.
The Now of God is a moment of profound intake, partake, and retake, when breathing becomes the discipline of consorted concord, if only we allow this great Life-Breath to dwell… to dwell… to dwell deeply within our fleshy-spirited repository.
There is where this Life, this Breath abides in the Gardener’s greenhouse, the Cultivator’s conservatory, the Potter’s hearth, the Common Home of The consoling, uncreated Love.
This Love having percolated through the energies of Sister Mother-Earth is molded into the moisture, the air which now wicks from your very being;
*Greenness…Holy Wisdom is now regenerated and held in the cosmic exhale which you requite, a continuous balance, an equilibrium, a homeostasis encircled in the embrace of the Sublime Mystery, the Sublime History, as the soul journeys into The Creative Humility.
What does it mean to be a person of color in this country? It is wondering whether or not you'll be able to see your family again. It is wondering if every time your brother or your father or your mother or your uncle or your aunt or your cousin leave the house, if this is the last time you'll see you then. It hurts to know that this is a reality we live in, especially in the country that claims it is “the land of the free”. I guess the most important question is: land of the free for who? Because honestly, slavery may have ended, but people still aren't exactly free. We never truly will be, unless something is done about the way minorities are treated in this country.
It is the fact that this country prides itself on the fact that people can come here for a quote unquote “better opportunity”, however what they forgot to mention is the better opportunities are for someone who is a white person. If you are Black, Brown, Yellow, Indegenous, Islamic or any other race and culture that is not white, you will face hardships in this country and you will never be given the same opportunities as a white person, but that's the reality we live in.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that people claim that the Black Lives Matter Movement is a terrorist movement. However, people look at the events on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and say that they were patriots. Meanwhile Black Lives Matter fights for equal opportunity and equal rights, for not just black people, but for other races too, because black people are tired. We fight for our brothers and sisters who are being hurt by ICE, we mourn with our indigenous brothers and sisters whose land this country is, but they are too stubborn to admit that this is stolen land. And it's sad to say that Native Americans were here first, and are the smallest minority in this country. We fight for Asian brothers and sisters in discrimination they face, even though the media never covers it. We stand up for our Muslim and Arabic friends. We fight for everyone. We do this because “All Lives'' do MATTER, but this cannot be a true statement until we resolve these issues.
We are tired of wondering if this is our last day, and we are tired of wondering if this is the last time we will see our family again. That shouldn't be the case, however, it is. As a woman of color in this country it is honestly disgusting to see how some white people fetishize the black community. They do not respect us for who we are, the opportunity we can give them: lightskin babies, mixed babies. But when it really comes down to it, they may not lay their hands down for people of color and that is disgusting. How can a white person have a black significant other and mixed kids, and still be racist? It is something I will never truly understand about the people in this country. But don't get me wrong there are some really genuine people who educate themselves about black history and the black culture and what it means to be a good ally. And I genuinely appreciate those people. So honestly I have one question for racist white people. What did black people do,what did people of color do to you? What did we do that was so bad that we deserve this? What answer could they possibly have to justify what they have done to people of color for centuries? Because honestly, I don't get it but people have never done any harm to white people. We don't go to other countries and steal their land, we don't profit off the back of immigrants, we don't profit off of slavery. You claim black people are violent, but you were the ones who started this violence when you took black people from their homeland and brought them to your respective countries and forced them to do your hard work. So I am going to reiterate my question: WHAT. DID. PEOPLE. OF. COLOR. DO?
There are so many stories that lie beneath the earth.
So many stories etched into dirt and woven into flower petals searching for the sun.
Millions of stories of people, of civilizations that once were and love that was lost.
So many stories of hope and triumph, of loss and devastation, hoping, seeking, praying for someone to find them.
A shovel makes contact with the dirt, a voice screams for freedom.
A child plucks a dandelion from a quiet field, a whisper is let out from the distance.
A baby takes its first steps upon the wooden floor, a hushed yelp escapes from beneath the beam.
We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, our feet sinking into mud,
Boots kicking rain water down the overflown street.
So many stories lie beneath the earth of people begging for voices.
Of people begging for someone to uncover the truth, to bring their lives justice, for someone to care enough to notice that history may have overlooked them.
So many stories lie beneath the earth—-
As I lay with my ear against the dewed grass, my left side towards the sunshine,
I am reminded to write for them.
For the ones that lie forgotten beneath the earth, etched into the dirt and woven into the flower petals that I plucked some time years ago.
Entering this space I am lost and afraid
The eyes that follow my move are as strong as a sharpened blade
As I reach the end of the path, a hand stands out and waves
At last, the gaze from those around escape me, and the familiar face brings me peace
To feel this belonging gives me much joy, I feel at ease
A community that welcomes the outsider, provides the best vibes
Groups can be small or big, it doesn’t matter the size
To feel welcomed is the ultimate prize
Now I await each day with a smile on my face
I have finally found my place.
My friend, what do you think of when I say identity?
If you had asked me that years ago, I would have said I think of a tall, skinny, blonde woman in a black dress, with big sunglasses covering her face while walking down an elegant casino hallway. She's in one of those covert-mission spy movies, pretending to be someone she's not...
But now, I think of a spool of wool, weaving in and out, being constructed and deconstructed, weaving different knots and ties into an intricate, beautiful work of art. The one phrase in that answer that sticks out to me in my first thoughts is, "pretending to be." An identity is "to be." It's how we are in this world, my friend. It's how we present ourselves, it's intersecting aspects of our existence, and it's how others see us.
Our experiences shape our identity and our identity shapes our experiences in a beautifully cyclical and treacherous way. Beautiful, in that I am intimately connected to everyone around me, since how others see us is a part of our identity. Treacherous, in that the actions of others may impact us so, so heavily. Our identities, you see, are a part of something bigger.
Identity is a beautiful thing, my friend - ever changing, ever intimate, ever connected to those around you. If we are connected, a wound to one is a wound to all. Wounds can be circumstantial. But eventually, the same wounds can happen again and again, and it seems circumstantial, but it leads to a weak system, broken at the core. If a wound never heals, it seeps into every fiber of our being and we become unwell.
Sounds familiar? Our actions are consequential in very intimate ways, my friend. Identity is defined by many things, and the individuality and intersections of it can never be made smaller than they are. However, we must always be aware of how connected we are; how a wound to one, is a wound to all. Healing - truly healing - requires radical, constant, change. My friend, Lord knows we have so much healing to do.