Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.
Throughout the 2018-19 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.
I come from a family of immigrants. It all started when my grandparents moved from Portugal and Spain to Venezuela 70 years ago. Both of my parents were born in Venezuela, and though they both traveled and resided in different countries, they found their way back to their home country to raise me and my sister Angela.
I could describe my childhood back in Venezuela in only two words: fun and beautiful. One of my favorite memories, I like to tell people, is when my family got together to celebrate New Year’s Eve. On that day, we would wear yellow underwear for good luck, and eat 12 grapes in the 12 minutes before midnight, making a wish for each one as we counted down to the new year. During carnaval, we’d watch people jump off the highest point of the town’s bridge into the river, and we’d play with water balloons. In the summer, we’d knock mangos out of the trees with rocks, or just enjoy the spring-like weather that lasts all year round. Life was easy and carefree back then but, unfortunately, in 2013, President Hugo Chavez died and everything started to fall apart.
It was hard enough while Chavez was President of my country, but somehow people could still manage to live. The years following his death were a disaster. The economy started to collapse, food and medicine became scarce, and people were robbed and murdered in the streets. Social unrest became more and more common. These uprisings were brutal; the people would be peacefully protesting while the national guards threw tear gas, shot rubber bullets, and turned water cannons on the crowds.
Today, Venezuela is going through the worst economic, humanitarian and migrational crisis it has ever seen. In 2016, I packed my suitcases and left Venezuela, with no hope of going back.
Leaving home was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life, but despite how hard it was to establish myself in a country I knew very little about, I’ve learned life lessons here. Lessons that will help me forever.
It was here that I learned to be strong when coping with the fact that I was not going to be able to go home, to see my family and friends, or even speak my own language. It was here that I realized that everything in this life–friends, places, and the material things that surround you–is fleeting. I learned that we are not defined by the places we come from, who we’re with, or the things we possess. When I left Venezuela, I brought with me two suitcases full of clothing, books, and my violin. But none of these could give me a sense of happiness and harmony within myself. I took shelter in the happy memories made in Venezuela, and reminded myself how lucky I am to also have a place where I am welcomed and can pursue my passion for music. In time, I learned that home is not the place you sleep, but the place you stand and the memories you carry inside you. True, I lost some things, but I have gained new things, things that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I am truly grateful to be here today, growing in a safe place surrounded by people guiding me to be the person I wish to become. Being away from my country not only gave me the opportunity to build a better future for myself, but also strengthened my love for my own country, culture, and heritage. Today I feel immensely proud of being Latina, of having African, Spanish, Portuguese and Indian roots, and of having learned to speak such a passionate language as Spanish.
Thank you, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, for giving me a place where I could be safe and start building a future. Thanks to all of you for teaching me about your cultures, history, and languages. Thank you Mom and Dad for all the sacrifices you make so I can be here today. Thank you to all the people at Pre-Con for making me feel like part of a family again and being my role models.
Lastly, thank you Venezuela. You gave my family a home when we lacked one, and even though I left you so soon, today more than ever I carry your flag, your people, and your traditions very close to my heart. I hope one day I can go back, see you be free, and revive all the memories I’ll treasure forever in my heart, mind, and soul.