Dear America

Dear America,

On the same day I receive my eighth-grade diploma for academic excellence, I also receive my first lesson in what it means to be a man of color in America. I come up the steps to the back of my house, where I’m met by police in full-body armor, pointing guns at me. Terrified, I obey every command and kneel. I know they do not see me as a passionate Latino student. They see me as what I am not and have never been: a drug-dealing Latino, bringing down the community.

Growing up, I used to listen to my Tío Jesus as he shifted uncomfortably between two layers of blankets on the floor. All my life I knew he was the troubled kid. His street life is what brought the cops to our door.

As the cops search my house, I fear the deportation of my hard-working parents, and I fear for my eleven-year-old sister, whose face is smeared with tears. On my knees, I am powerless. Held behind a barrier of assault weapons, I watch as those closest to me are taken away, and the innocent women I love most suffer without mercy.

In that moment I make a choice between letting my anger take me into a life of struggle and seeking a future no one in my neighborhood has ever known. Suddenly, it becomes clear: my education is my way out. Soon my achievements earn me access to Next Generation Scholars, a program that helps low­-income students attend four-year universities. Instead of gaining power from gangs or from selling drugs, I wield power by excelling in school, lifting up my community, and building my voice as a young Latino man.

Soon I will earn my high school diploma and walk up those same back steps to the house the police took by force. I will never be the man they believed me to be when they forced me to kneel. I am the descendant of Aztec kings, a proud barrio nerd who stands ready to join others in redefining what it means to be a man of color in America.

Don’t miss the First and Third Prize–winning “Dear America” essays from our “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest.