“Adriana! Adriana, come look at your dad!”
I was 12. I had been drawing in my bedroom with my father’s pencil box that was full of special pencils, erasers, blending tools, and razors. I never liked drawing, and I wasn’t any good at it, but I thought if I had the right stuff, maybe I could draw like daddy could. He had drawn so many prints of my mom with silky long hair, large hoop earrings, a mole above her lip, and a sombrero – a print that I found a few years ago, shoved in the back of our bathroom cabinet behind the towels. Mom kept calling, so I pulled my earbuds out and left my purple iPod on the bed – one of seven daddy had given me. I don’t remember opening my door, or walking down the hall, but I do remember when I got to the kitchen. My mom was bent over, and her hair was wrapped around my father’s forearm. He was dragging her across the kitchen tile, and she was screaming. When he looked up, I expected him to let her go. Instead, he stared at me. And stared at me. I didn’t look away and stood so still until he untangled her hair and dropped her on the floor. She rubbed away the scrapes on her legs and started yelling at him when he went back to their room. She followed.
I found her in the kitchen 45 minutes later, sobbing over strawberry cake mix that she was stirring. My father was sitting across from her, dipping a spoon in to taste the batter like he always did when she made his favorite cake. I returned to my room and thought about how much more this bothered me than the drugs and guns I’d found around the house. I knew bad things were going on, but the police raids were more of an inconvenience than anything else. I knew my brothers were involved in a gang, but I was tempted by the easy money and sense of respect our family had. I wasn’t serious about being involved, but I did get swept up in the promise of something more than good grades. I didn’t always pay attention in class, and I didn’t always do well in school. My grades fluctuated from A’s to F’s, and I’ve had my fair share of disappointed teachers who have yelled, rolled their eyes, and even told me, “No UC in their right mind would accept you.”
After much struggling, I realized that education was my way out.
I pushed myself and became the first in my family to go to college. That is where I found Merced County Project 10% – an initiative that allows college students to share their stories with 8th graders to encourage them to graduate high school. Sharing your story might seem daunting, but if you want to make a difference in your community, it can start with just that. Not only have I learned a lot about myself, I have met kids all over Merced County who have said that my story inspires them. Try sharing your story and see how you can affect those around you. You might be surprised!
Monica with mother and siblings