This piece tied first for high school writing submissions in the 2021 Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to express the reality of the challenges they or others face and/or how they or others find hope through difficult times. The competition is an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing and art.

No Soy de Aquí, Ni Soy de Allá

Born in Inglewood on December 18, 2002, Tommy Ayala embarked on a world that was not suited for people like him. Unbeknownst to Tommy, being a son of an immigrant family is a handicap in America. To the majority of the population, it is an insult to let his existence leech off of the success of the American nation. Later down the road, Tommy will begin to think along those lines too.

Who’s at fault here?

With a family that will eventually have 10 people in total, 4 sisters, 4 brothers, and a mother and a father, Tommy lived life in a house with only one bedroom, one kitchen, and one bathroom. Clearly, they weren’t a well-off family, with cockroaches crawling during the middle of the night, the sink water stopping in intervals, and the bath towels never being washed or replaced, Tommy and his family did the most with what they had. Tommy had to learn to be self-reliant from an early age.

Should the parents be blamed?

Around 2011, his mother was deported in the most undignified way imaginable. Two cops enter the Ayala household with Arturo Ayala’s permission; he has no idea that a warrant is needed, but his experience in Honduras crippled his trust with authorities. Yelling and forcing her out of bed, his mother was dragged out of bed and he never saw her again. At this point in his life, Tommy was well aware of his mother’s activities, she would shoplift clothes for the family: certain parts of his shirts were cut off and patched up because of the security tags, and steal food when she knew how little there was in the fridge. His father attempted his best to support a family of 9, at the time, with a salary well below the minimum wage. But according to California law, his mother is a criminal, which means America has the right to deport her.

The mother is in the wrong here, right?

He didn’t understand why the police came, he did not understand why committing theft instantly sent her to a different country, but he understood that something prevented a life where his family could live in peace.

He should move on, and accept that his mother is a criminal, right?

After these unfortunate series of events, Tommy headed into middle school. At this point in his life, gangs and
violence were ideas of fiction to Tommy because he was used to being picked up by his mother after-school, so he never actually witnessed their violence first-hand. This is when he experienced bullying: he has no clue why the gang members picked on him but it happened for three years. It ranged from stepping on the back of his shoe or receiving a punch on the back which left him crying. Going to the staff members did absolutely nothing because he did not have video evidence, and a “slap on the wrist” is all the gang members got. The “friends” he had back in elementary school kept their heads down. Tommy was weak, pathetic, and wanted to beat himself up for how utterly ashamed he felt that he had no one to defend him.

Should the community be blamed? Or Tommy’s inability to call the cops?

During these events, Tommy’s consciousness began to develop, and he was finally able to understand the world around him. In the news and his community, an emphasis was placed on race and ethnicity. He began to notice a hierarchy of race, and according to this fictional and seemingly arbitrary chart, being Latino was one of the lowest. No one respected them, and those who support them are actually pitying them. So many statistics depict Latinos as criminals and violent individuals, and to Tommy, they are the truth.

Tommy should feel shame and take responsibility for his people’s actions, right?

The psychological ramifications of witnessing his mother be deported in an instant, and being bullied effectively cause him to distance himself from many of his peers. When faced with intimacy, he would move away to avoid any potential problems. Any form of friendship he develops will instantly be ended by him acting aloof to the person because he thinks he knows better than anyone else that no one will help him. He sees everyone as losers because his community belittles him, the government hates him, and the world dehumanizes him. He devoted himself to his studies, it was the only thing he had that will not be touched or affected by anyone. He worked, he worked, he worked. His main motivation was leaving Inglewood; he wanted somewhere he could reinvent himself because to everyone in his community he is the poor, angry-looking kid that gets good grades. He didn’t want that, he actually wanted someone to help him not feel defeated and useless. But instinctively, he will push them away to see if they’ll come back to see that they actually care. Obviously, this method is unhealthy, but he can not help it.

Where does Tommy go from here?

Coming from here, Tommy had this constant thought that he would never succeed in life and that his low-income background would prevent him from a successful future. No school gave him the boost he needed, in his elementary years’ teachers would let him fail and fail without ever telling him how he can improve. In middle school, he was not allowed to be in the AVID program the 'gifted kids' were put into because his “potential” was not on par with the other kids. High school is no different. Teachers who promote the message “C’s get degrees” and “Try to, at least, get a 3 on the AP,” and the institution that purposely makes their courses cookie cutter because the students will be overloaded with handling the workload. He can work as hard as he can but at the end of the day, he’s just Latino.

Is he a talented, or talented ‘for a Latino’?

His future is still uncertain. He is thinking about pursuing computer science; he wants to get away from it all. Tommy wants to get really involved in quantum computing research because he read multiple articles during his youth and now. Tommy has taken it upon himself to take classes outside of his high school courses, and use websites to teach himself how to program. When he hears about issues concerning Latinos, he feels nothing. No sadness, it’s as if there is a void in his heart. Tommy is drawn to science because it has clear answers, clear objectives.

Is he in the wrong for not caring?

You might be judging Tommy for not caring. You might expect him to be compassionate, inspiring, and uplift those around him because they share traumatic experiences. You want him to make websites, merchandise, and write a stupid biography detailing how prideful he feels about being Latino and go on the podcast, talk shows, and attend how he used racism to motivate him to bring change. You want him to moan his whole life, and sacrifice his personal goals for the good of the people.

He is fucking stupid for not thinking about representing or fighting for his people, right?

Have you ever asked him what he wants?

Who’s at fault here?