Throughout my life, I have lived in six houses and one apartment. For as long as I can remember, my life has played out on several stages – often defining the developmental changing seasons of living.
When I was born, I was brought home to a small apartment in West Salinas. I was the heir to my twenty-one-year-old parents and their very small fortune that they earned and saved in preparation for my arrival. It was in this apartment that I became cocooned in the love my parents had for me. I was fed and burped – my smiles intermixed with constant crying – all without really knowing the world I had just become a part of.
It was in this apartment I felt unconditional love for the very first time.
After the apartment was a series of cardboard-like cookie cutter houses. All were painted various shades of beige or gray and were a variant of the same, rotating and recycled three layouts in suburban Salinas. I have lived in six cycles of the same similar neighborhoods and same undecorated bedrooms, as a guest who couldn’t so much as paint the beige away or put a hole in the wall.
It was in these houses that I grew out of my childhood clothes and shoes, over and over. I learned to multiply, roller skate and tame my hair. I learned to be compassionate, to be unapologetically ambitious and how to hide in plain sight.
Starting over and over again, I have learned and lived, mapping out the different stages of growing up in each house. I have made my homes in between tattered carpet scraps and mattresses on the floor. I found my own autonomy in between yard sales and packed boxes. I became and regressed in a cyclical pattern of self-discovery, one that has since defined not only my childhood but my character.
It is reminiscent of a famous quote from Tupac Shakur, that has been often used to describe the social shortcomings of people of color and the systemic injustices we so commonly experience.
“The rose that grew from concrete” became a symbol of my highschool college preparatory program. In my mind, it marks the strength my peers and I had to accomplish what we did. This method of describing beauty growing despite its environment has become more than a motto, but a way of life.
We broke through these man-made cracks and brought about the return to nature. Getting to a four-year university and developing in a place of transience are both wins in the long-term battle of barricades and adversity.
Environment makes the man.
It is what creates senators, professors and business professionals. It promotes the continuing poverty and the perpetual barriers “other-ed” individuals have had to face. It allows generational charms and curses to fester, it brings luck, it gives aid and it constantly takes all depending on your surface level identity.
This reality is the reason our sons and daughters often can’t go to the same schools as their white counterparts. It is the reason there is a disproportionate amount of black and brown people in prison for petty crimes they committed to simply survive.
Environment breeds “winners” and “losers.” It perpetuates laws built on the mere evidence of prejudice based on the color of your skin. It erects the Supreme Court Justices who abolish womens’ right to choose and affirmative action. It is this shared history that contributes to the unjust world and even where we call home.
My environment is the reason I have lived in six houses and one apartment.
It has always had a nasty tendency to pull my smile wide and bear my teeth. These experiences have sunk my eyebrows, hiding my eyes. They have contorted my face into the malleable person I perform as, when I sense – or, perhaps, integrally know – that I am somehow on stage.
Often, I feel as though I act as a puppet for causes that have plagued me, my parents and those who came before us. I sacrifice my integrity, because they have sacrificed their lives.
I know what my character says, I know how she can defy the mold. I play the part of being seen, my eyes light up with the imaginary spotlight of me being watched by strangers and acquaintances and embodying what they want from me.
It’s what is called, “working the system”, and it makes my parents proud because they have hope of me breaking through that same system that has historically been so cruel. They have hope that because of my intelligence, ambition and the cocoon of unconditional love they blessed me with the cycle will spare me. That I will cast a new charm, rather than continue the curse.
They hope that I can have a life full of choices rather than obligations; they lived their life to give me the gift of mine.