Stories For Liberation: I Had To Learn Something Different

(Painting/"I Had To Learn Something Different"/Gwynne Duncan)

As we read the stories of our newcomer high school writers, we cannot help but notice how often they speak about what they need to learn and how often they use the word “humble.” We celebrate not only these students, but the schools that have taken them in and allowed them to draw on their experiences to learn further. We particularly celebrate ENL teacher Dafny Irizarry, founder and director of Long Island Latino Teachers’ Association, who started our writing project with newcomer students at Central Islip High School.

I always thought life was perfect, but the day my mother left the house to immigrate to the United States I had to learn something different.

At my young 6 years of age, I learned life was hard. I learned life takes a toll. For my brother and sister and me, it was even harder because our father had a vice. My father’s vice was alcohol. He would get drunk very often and leave my brother and sister and me alone, with no one at our side to take care of us.

When my mother left, he spent some days without drinking, but when he realized how much he missed her, he started again. They had talked about my father’s vice before she left. She told him he had to stop drinking because he had to take care of us. My mother hoped to see his actions reflect the promise he made to stop getting drunk. But, that promise was never fulfilled.

After a couple of weeks, my mother got in touch with my father for the first time since she left. My father, brother, sister, and I were very happy with her call. Later, when she started working, she started to send us money. My father would buy us something small with it, and when he had some left over, he’d go to the bar and spend the rest of it on alcohol.

One day, my mother got tired of this and wanted to put an end to this situation. So, thinking things through, she decided to send money to my aunt, that way my father had no way of fueling his bad habit. When my father found out my aunt was receiving the money, it got to the point where he prohibited communication with my mom. When, by chance, he allowed us to talk to her, he’d put her on speakerphone to hear the whole conversation. He was checking to see if we would tell our mom that he kept drinking, that he’d come home drunk, with his friends also drunk, or that he’d leave us alone without being cared for.

Many times, he didn’t come home to sleep. We wouldn’t see him for days and didn’t know where he was. I had to go out and look for something to eat because we had nothing at home. Thank God, the neighbors gave us food.

Time passed and everything remained the same for 11 years. During this time, you learn to live without love and get used to the suffering. I had to raise my 1-and-a-half-year-old little brother and 3-year-old sister. I felt so overwhelmed with all the work and responsibilities that I neglected my studies, and that’s how I got left back two years.

Years later…

While I traveled from El Salvador to the United States, I was very scared because we were traveling without an adult in charge of us. Thank God, nothing bad happened on our journey here. Before this, many dangerous and terrible things happened, so I could have the opportunity to be here with my family.

When I arrived in the United States on April 2014, I was 16 years old. Two days later, I was enrolled in Central Islip High School. It was difficult for me to adapt, but little by little, I’ve been getting used to things. Everything was so strange, so different from everything I’d known until then. I felt as if it was another person living it all and not me.

Going through all these experiences has made me stronger, but also more humble. I want to give 100 percent to school and take advantage of the opportunity I have to be here. All these experiences have helped me to be independent and responsible. They have helped me to develop the ability to reach my goal of going to college and being able to graduate one day.

– Translated from the original Spanish by Silvia Heredia


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