Living in a shadow

By Yanelis Martinez | May | June 2020
After all of these years, I have finally found the courage to tell my story. My younger brother and I were born in a small town called Putla Villa de Gurrero, Oaxaca. When I was just 2 years old my father left for the United States to seek a better life. January 25, 2003, was the start of a new beginning for my family, for it was when we left our hometown and started our long journey to America. Leaving from Tijuana, my mom carried my little brother in her arms while my uncle carried me on his back all through the day and night. Arriving in Arizona after several days, I remember my clothes were torn apart and I was freezing. I specifically remember this one particular lady who came up to me and gave me a purple jacket and some money for my brother and me to get something to eat—this is something that has and will always stick with me. Growing up was very difficult because we barely had any money for food. It just got harder from there when I started school. Both my parents knew no English at all and spoke very little Spanish; they only knew Triqi (an oral language spoken in Oaxaca that not many people even know of). When I started first grade, I felt excluded from everything and was treated differently by my teacher compared to all the other students. My teacher constantly made up things to get me in trouble just to send me to the office. I ended up repeating my first-grade year and that is when I met favorite teacher, Mrs. Neaglee. What a difference one person can make in the life of another! She taught me so much and always pushed me to do better, and I began to enjoy and excel in school. The following year I was the top student, scoring 100 percent on my benchmark test. Getting a perfect score on that benchmark test made me realize that I was capable of achieving whatever I put my mind to. Yes, I am undocumented and I do have dreams too. That dream that no president nor unjust law nor discrimination can take away. That dream remains and I am living proof that with dedication and strength, I can overcome any struggles that come my way. After living so much of my early life in the shadows, hiding my past and keeping my talents hidden, I’m ready to step out into the light. I’m proud of the risks my parents took to get me here, and I’m confident that I’m going to make their struggle worth it because behind me there is a life that only saw dreams.

Yanelis Martinez is a student at San Benito High School in the San Benito Joint Union High School District

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Association of California School Administrators