This piece placed first for high school art submissions in the Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to consider a change they’d like to see in their community or the world and to convince an audience, through any genre of writing or visual medium, of the importance of this change. The competition was an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing and art.
Growing up, I was never one to fit in, whether it was in my family or in school. Being different and not fitting in is totally ok, there is nothing wrong with being an outsider. Idiosyncratic means that an individual may have a behavior or characteristic that is peculiar or distinctive. Being different, you can tell how distinctive you really are from others, people will notice me from a mile away just by my hair. My skin tone is lighter than most African Americans and darker than most hispanics. My life is kind of like the main character from Mixed-ish, except I’m not half white and I definitely do not live in a hippie commune. I, like the main character, do not want to choose the side of my culture and identity, I’d rather be. And this is precisely the wrong I want to right. I want my audience to find power and strength in the fact that they are different. We are about to head to college and we need to be prepared to stand up and right the wrong idea that those who are different cannot achieve. This is my voice.
In my painting I wanted to portray how I am very different to others, especially in my classes. For my current audience, this would be the most engaging, because it is personal. My school is about 99% hispanic and about 1% African American. I am in the middle: half Hispanic and half African American. Even though I have been raised as mostly a hispanic, I feel and look mostly African American. In my painting I put a classroom as my background because in my AP and Honors classes I am the only African American. I’ve never noticed, and I always thought we were all equal but I realized that we are not. As you get older, you start to realize racism still exists when police officers look at you like you don’t belong or you might steal something. While walking into stores, I feel like Pat Mora’s legal alien: “exotic, perhaps inferior,” and “definitely different.” I am two sides of a coin that are definitely not accepted. I have experienced this when being in a classroom where a teacher can speak Spanish and someone will look to me to see if I understand. I’ve experienced this when a teacher teaches a lesson about the n-word and everyone, even the teacher looks at me to see if I am bothered. Since I play a very large role at school I was never one to notice that in all my clubs it seems like no African American student is a director, president, or vice president of a club except me. By being the person in charge that looks like them, African American students now have a voice in all clubs, especially the ones that run school events. This is, in itself, is how I am righting wrongs. It now feels like that one percent of African American students has a voice because I chose to lead.
Through my art, I want to be the person that advocates for others even when you don’t notice. In my painting on each side of the chalkboard are posters, on one side there are posters full of color and on the other there are white posters. This was intentional: it shows that even when we learn the same things people of color still seem to get segregated from people who aren’t of color. I used colors that looked similar to a cartoon unintentionally, I see the world in color not just black and white and so I believe others need to have the same mindset to be able to truly understand my perspective. I put myself in the painting to show that even if we wear the same clothes we are not the same. Similarly, Trayvon Martin, he was dressed in a hoodie because it was way different than if a white person were to wear the exact same thing. I used cracks to show that I put myself out there to stand out and break that barrier of others fearing people of color because of our skin color. I don’t want to be seen like a bad kid but that will never change because of my skin color, so if I can, I will be a voice for others. Being in positions like President and Vice President in different clubs shows other students that look like me that they have a voice even in the smallest places.