I was a very privileged child living in Colombia. I owned about 70 Barbie dolls, giant plushy teddies, and beautiful, painted horses. I had a nanny named Mirella who bathed me, brushed my teeth, dressed me, cooked for me, made my bed, cleaned up after me, took me to the bus stop, and played with me. I had family living so close to me, and the occasional party or barbeque where all my family ate delicious Colombian food and laughed their delicious hearty laughter. I went to the Colombian equivalent of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, Ballarte, which was an amazing ballet school, and a very good catholic private school named Los Treboles (The Clovers) In total, I was comfortable and happy in my little bubble. In the movie, Horton Hears a Who, The Who’s living in the pollen are perfectly comfortable also, but there is a world outside that pollen, and for us, that was the United States.
Coming here was a strange experience for me. I never felt happy to be in the United States specifically. I could have cared less if it was the United States or any other country, as long as I got to see my dad, who had come here for a year before us. I used to think of America as a place with the Statue of Liberty, a hotdog stand, an amusement park, Michael Jackson (on top of the Statue of Liberty like in his music video I had seen in Colombia) and snow. For the first year that we lived in the US, we shared a small one floor 1960’s style house with my aunt and her husband, Ronald. My sister and I learned many important things in that house. I learned to bathe myself at the age of seven. I do not actually know when people start bathing on their own, but that’s when I started. I also had to learn how to pick up after myself, and most horrifyingly, making my bed. It was a huge drama because I hated making my bed. I hated it and I hate it now. It was hard on me not having Mirella. Now that I think of it, it must have been triple hard for my mom, who wasn’t used to cooking, cleaning, or any other housewife stuff. I remember how angry she’d get when we were messy, and how sad she’d be. She never wore makeup anymore or painted her nails, and she always complained of having dry hands from washing the dishes.
Back then, though, it was a cultural submersion for all of us, especially at school. I never showed off that I was from another country. Probably because I didn’t know English to begin with, but also because I wanted desperately to fit in. I wanted to be like the girls who were skinny like sticks and had straight blonde hair. I went to school two or three days after I got here. The first two weeks were the scariest, most terrifying time of my entire life. It was intimidating not to understand anybody, and I cried every day for two weeks. When I was in Colombia, I was the biggest crybaby. In fact, once I broke my arm, and nobody believed it was broken. It was my own version of the boy who cries wolf. This time though, I stopped being a crybaby. Now I just cried because I was really sad.I would cry because I didn’t know the Star Spangled Banner, because I had no one to play with at recess, or because I wanted my mother or my sister. I cannot imagine what people must have thought of me back then. I had a tutor whose name was Mrs. Forbes. I remember that there was a street named Forbes street, and I’d think it was named after her. She took me out of English class, and she taught me English with another Chinese girl. She would tell me, “Natalia, promise me that tomorrow, you won’t cry in the morning.”
As a frightened seven year old, I never thought why we came here. I only thought it was because of my dad’s work, and that I deeply wished to be in Colombia again. I didn’t feel grateful until a while later. I remember telling my cousin, “Laurita, do you like having family around, and eating all that bread and fruit, and living in a nice big house? Yes? Well don’t come here” I regret saying that now, but that’s what I felt about being here. I missed my family and my culture.
One of the things about coming here was that we were all children here. My mother didn’t know anything about the culture here, the norms, or the language. This is why my sister was always my second mother. My sister is my role model. She is the hardest working person I know, and I love her. She was the one who introduced our family to Sewickley Academy. She would comfort me when I cried at school, she would play dolls with me, and influence my music taste, movie taste, and thoughts. She knew what was in fashion, and what was right and wrong. She was very wise in all the advice she gave me. She would always say, “You’ve got it easy, Nata, just follow my footsteps or know what not to do” She was the one who raised me the most. I’m afraid my parents spoiled me too much, and my sister would tell me the truth (sometimes the bitter truth….) When my parents went out shopping and I wanted a candy bar, my sister would say, “Natalia, how ungrateful you are! Don’t you see that candy bar’s expensive?!?” and when she scolded me, I listened, even if I pretended not to by saying childish comebacks. One day I got invited to a party, and the hostess’s house was unbelievably huge. It was so huge, and I wanted it to be mine, and I could taste it being mine. That day, I cried when I got home, and told my parents that I was wished we lived like that. My parents said nothing, but my sister had a lot to say. She told me how I had really hurt my dad’s feelings that day, and how he told her not to tell me. She said that daddy works so hard everyday, and that I was being really ungrateful. Off course, I yelled back and said I was not ungrateful, but that night I got to thinking. That night I realized why we were in the United States. I realized how the people who lived here and had a big house, I realized that even though those people were 1% of the population, I had the opportunity to be like them.
My dad hadn’t just come for work related purposes. He and mom sacrificed themselves by giving up their comfortable lives, and families, and world in Colombia for us. My dad went to the best university in Colombia. He is so smart, but he worked for a year as a janitor in the US. And now, he works, and does a school at night, so that he can get a doctorate and a better job to help us with college. They are here for us, and they are finished. Our family is a staircase. We move up and that is the only option. As my father said, my great grandfather was a rich landowner, and my grandfather was a general, and they all were more successful than the last. My dad climbed a step to bring us here and now it was up to us to climb to the top. We were here to go to college and be whatever we wanted to be. That night when my sister told me how I made my father feel, I felt sick to my stomach. I’m not going to cry for the things I do not have, but I am going to work hard and get something even better.
To my family, citizenship was a finish line to a chapter of our lives. To me, It was pride. I am so proud of my father, my mother, my sister, and me. Because we all worked so hard to get here, and we all grew immensely by this experience. My mother and my father live for my sister and I. And I think this is beautiful, and I am so proud of our citizenship because it allows us to do anything and everything without any obstacle. Because America is on our side. If an angel were to walk up to my seven year old self and say that in seven years, you would move out of your aunt’s house, live in a big beautiful home, go to a private school, having a passion for the cello, and being able to control my future, I would say if God is willing. But it has happened. I am an American who has the potential to be whatever she wants to be. That makes me shudder because it’s so real I can taste it. This is what being a citizen means to me. It means growth, opportunities, and action.
I am so proud that if I work hard, I can do whatever I want. Though that sounds reasonable, it isn’t the case everywhere. That is the American culture and the American dream
The above post was written as a personal reflection by Natalia A., an 8th grade student.