Drowning From The Inside Out: The Stigma Surrounding Early Pregnancy


Written by Amy Lopez

There is an unspoken rule in Hispanic households: if you’re feeling something, hold it in. Don’t let yourself be seen as weak. It is not going to make anything better if all you are doing is pouting.

That’s how I used to feel.

How I still feel sometimes.

I was valedictorian of my high school in Southern California. I also won the Gates Millennium Scholarship my senior year—the only person in my class to receive it.

I was entering my freshmen year at University of Southern California with an academic scholarship that would leave me debt-free by the time I graduated.

I had everything figured out. Or so I thought. The second semester of my sophomore year at USC, I found out I was pregnant. I was 19 years old.

It was not the great shock for me that society and media make it out to be. I had missed my period for about two months, something that was out of the norm for me. There was no, “How could this have happened?” moment for me. Sure, there was a chance that when I went to the clinic, the test would come out negative, but when it read positive, there was not much surprise.

Nor was I shocked by the reactions I got from people.

I was not a stranger to teenage or unplanned pregnancies.

Coming from a low-income community, unplanned pregnancies were talked about at my high school and occurred occasionally. Plus, being the daughter of one who gave birth to my oldest brother at the age of 17 and then to me at the age of 20, I was not foreign to the topic. But I had mixed feelings about it.

It was always the same story when it came to the unplanned pregnancies at my high school.

The girls stopped coming to school. They always said they were coming back but most never did. Perhaps they lacked the support from school staff. Maybe they were unsure of how to balance their new role with the ever-present demands of school. Often, their boyfriends started working and the girls would spend their time at home, becoming accustomed to maternal life and all it entailed.

It’s what my mother had done. She’d given up her peak years to take care of my three brothers and me. It was not until we were significantly older that she finally decided to go back to school to become a teacher, a goal she continues to pursue to this day. Still, it was her hiatus that always bothered me. Why couldn’t she have still gone to school and taken care of us? Why did she wait so long? When I got pregnant and heard the reactions, I realized why: It was easier.

No longer was I the wunderkind valedictorian who was going to take over the world.

People heard I was pregnant and it was almost as if they were giving out eulogies rather than congratulations or morale boosters. “She’s so young,” they’d say. “She had such a bright future. She worked so hard in high school. It’s a shame.”

Fueled in part by doubt and adversity, I was inspired and motivated to finish school. I was determined to continue. I could not let people be right. I was not doomed to fail.

Every day I went to school, and my anxiety increased as my belly grew. I began to realize that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was exhausted. I would drive to school, park, and walk to class in a sleep-deprived state. I was not in the best state health wise. I was tired and scared that I would not have the strength to carry this load. Not just going to school and graduating on time, but parenthood itself.

This is where it began. What it really feels like to be a young parent. In addition to the typical worries of students my age, I began to wonder if was going to be a good parent. The feeling would eat at me. I had so much homework as it was, how was I going to balance a child as well? What was I getting myself into?

In most communities, venting brings one response: “Well… you should’ve used protection,” or “You had a choice.” And this is true.

As young parents, we do have a choice to make. A difficult choice to make that has been debated at federal levels for decades. For some, abortion is a simple procedure. For other, an anguishing option. But there are many of us that immediately feel a connection to what is already growing inside of us.

Here’s the kicker: while one decision is politically debated about whether or not it’s a personal choice, the other is a life-long commitment that is forever viewed as the wrong personal choice. The choice to parent young.

Because as young parents we could have “been smarter about contraception” or made an alternative choice instead of creating struggles. This is what the media tells us. This is what society tells us. It creates a feeling of drowning from the inside out.

It is making a sound choice about our parenting and our plans, only to have someone tell us “you’re so young. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It is sharing my pregnancy news with family and former close friends and hearing, “When are you quitting school?”

It is going to school, raising my son and being asked by family members why I’m so focused on my homework. Why is my son crying while I’m on my laptop trying to finish a news package for my journalism class? Why did I even choose to go into journalism? What kind of earning can you make in that field?

It is being told by numerous people that you’ll have help at a moment’s notice, but always being denied help when you need it most.

It’s taking finals while trying to put your child to sleep.

You try to come up for air and realize that the baby years will pass. School will end soon. All the while, you’re still treading water. The drowning feeling never goes away. But you learn to adapt.

School finishes and work begins. Instead of having class hours to work around, you now need a full 9-hour babysitter for your children, and daycare isn’t cheap.

Even when you have reached “adulthood,’’ you have already been a parent for years. It sets you apart from the parents who had their children at a socially appropriate age. You never really fit in anywhere.

You fall into a specific category, constantly trying to make sure you don’t drown from the steady influx of stigma. It is difficult to parent under the scrutiny of everyone around you, when you are doing the best you can.

The suffocating stigma must end. We have a right to parent with dignity.





How Running Changed the Way I Live



I spent the early part of my life running away. From school, from home, & from my issues in general. During my 20s as I began to re-center myself, I struggled with balancing the responsibilities of mothering three young children, working part-time & staying on top of my college course work. I knew it was important to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, but it was difficult to make time. I purchased several used treadmills during the decade that it took to complete my Bachelor’s degree and finish a graduate program, because late night running was the only way I could fit cardio into my schedule. The constant hum of the machine, along with the rhythmic thumping of my feet seemed to soothe even the crankiest of my infants, so often I would out their baby carriers in the back room with me while I worked out. The other upside to this arrangement was that I could perch my course materials on the treadmill console and attempt to read while I ran. Dangerous, I know. I’m genuinely surprised that I never seriously injured myself, though there were a few close calls.

I had become the master multi-tasker and had learned to maximize every minute of the day. I became dependent on the treadmill to track my miles and speed, and the times I attempted to run outdoors, I found I didn’t enjoy it as much because I felt I couldn’t measure my progress. And if it couldn’t be measured, did it even count?

Fast forward several years to 30-year-old me, suffocating under the weight of maintaining superwoman status. I now had four children, a full-time career, & a desire to put forth the image of a polished, put-together life. Until it became to much. The cracks in my facade seems fixable at first, that is until I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture which revealed a version of me that was fragmented in so many places, I wasn’t even sure what it felt like to be whole.

Enter: Paradigm shift. It came abruptly, though I argue it had been in the works for a solid few years or so. I suddenly found myself the single-mother of four, and my self-perceived elevated identity was abruptly leveled. I needed to rebuild. During this time, I ran for survival. It was the only sure way to clear my mind and obtain a beautiful, clear-headed high. I’m not sure when I began venturing outdoors for my runs, but I know it was done in an effort to remove myself from a house full of never ending tasks and chores. The glowing display of the treadmill number count that I once relied on so heavily, now seemed constricting and rigid.

On the trail, I was free. On most days I was accustomed to my children’s noises wafting throughout the house, however the only sounds that followed me on my runs were those of my shoes hitting pavement, and of my own breath. I took solace in watching the gradual changes of nature that we often take for granted in our daily grind: sunrise & sunset, the subtle change of a season, the constant flow of the river. It dawned on me, after some time, that running is actually a very active form of mediation. It helped me build focus, and I even learned to incorporate affirmations into each mile that I completed. Which explains why I found daily runs so necessary in terms of creating a sense of balance in my life.

This past year, I began running races. I completed my first half marathon in October & found myself with eyes full of tears by the time I reached the finish line. Not out of pain, but out of pride. On a personal level, the timing of the race was symbolic for me, as I had been experiencing one of the more difficult trials of my life one year prior to completing the race. To me, those 13.1 miles were a show a strength. I needed to prove to myself that I could push my limits as a short distance runner, and come out ahead. I wanted to prove to myself that I’m moving forward. This coming October, I plan on running a full marathon.

Lately, I’ve settled into a very comfortable place in my life, and I believe that my running habit has something to do with that. I feel less driven to compete in ways that make me appear outwardly successful, and more compelled to nurture my spirit & family through means that are not measurable to the outside eye. The tone of my everyday existence is a gentle one, marked with introspection, love, and the well-worn tread of my favorite running shoes.

I race myself, and no other.

Originally published on Medium: 






Sacramento Voices

Sac Voices class of 2015-16

Excited to announce that I was selected to participate in Sacramento Voices class of 2015-16, as a community correspondent.

Sacramento Voices is a 9-month program, sponsored by The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. It was created to put the power of storytelling in the hands of South Sacramento residents South Sacramento interested in reporting, writing, and taking photos for its community storytelling program.

This creative initiative will train residents to become community correspondents and serve as the new voices in coverage of Sacramento.

The program will enable community members to report on what they think is most important.

Correspondents report on a wide range of issues highlighting the triumphs and challenges of real life in the South Sacramento neighborhoods of Lemon Hill, Oak Park and Valley Hi. Topics will include community heroes and heroines, and health and wealth disparities.

You can read more about the program here: http://sacramentovoices.us/

New stories will be posted on a monthly basis.

Random questions… (On religion, spirituality, and the likes).

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ― Paramahansa Yogananda

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely    and earnestly.”
― Paramahansa Yogananda

I sat on the examination table, swinging my legs slightly in impatience. What was supposed to be a routine examination was suddenly taking up a good portion of my morning.

 “Let me try this again, honey,” the nurse said apologetically. I felt the tight squeeze of the blood pressure monitor, and took a deep breath. The nurse read the needle and gave me a quizzical look. “Hold on a second, I’m going to have someone else give it a try.” The thin paper on the exam table crinkled beneath me as I shifted uncomfortably.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked. “Well, It’s just I’ve never seen a blood pressure this low on a live person before. It’s barely readable.” 

I laughed. “Oh, is that all? Yeah, this happens to my mom all the time. It’s either genetics or meditation.”

As a child, I was questioned about my faith regularly. I remember one particular sleepover that quickly dissolved into a session of Eastern Religion 101. My friend and I had ended up in my parent’s room, most likely on the hunt for sheets and other fort building materials. 

No sooner than we’d entered the room, my buddy lost site of our original goal, and was diverted by my mom’s alter, along with the foreign items on it. She picked up the kriya beads, sniffed them, and tossed them back down.  “Those smell.”

“Well”, I began explaining, “that’s because…” 

But she wasn’t listening, as her attention had shifted to the picture in the center of the alter.

 “Who’s that lady?” she asked, “Is that your grandma?”       

“No, that’s actually a man, he’s our guru.” And for the next half hour, I watched as my friend curiously prodded my mom’s harmonium, twirled the incense sticks, and tried to ring the chakra beards as if they were some sort of musical instrument.

This routine played out over and over again throughout my childhood, each time I invited someone new to the home. Honestly, sometimes I lied and said, “Yes, that’s my grandma,” just so I could bypass the explanation.

Unlike many of the children I knew, I didn’t spend many Sundays in a pew reciting verses from the bible. I did attend catechism classes, but more often than not my sisters and I were learning chants, affirmations, meditation techniques, and perfecting the lotus pose. This was long before yoga studios started popping up on every corner, and chakra readings were co-opted by the hipsters.

So whereas many aspects of the religion I grew up with seem rather mainstream nowadays, back then it was considered weird. At least in my little suburban corner of the world.

My mother chose to raise my sisters & I with the teachings of Self-Realization Fellowship, a blend of Hinduism & Christianity that has been practiced in the U.S. & India since roughly 1920. That was the year the religion’s founder, Paramahansa Yogananda, traveled to the U.S. from India in hopes of bringing his “science” of enlightenment to Westerners. The church was established in Los Angeles in 1935.

Just as Islam recognizes Christianity as a valid religion & Jesus as a prophet, Self-Realization Fellowship pays great respect to the messages of Christ.

 Yogananda took passages from the Bible and drew similarities between the passages of new testament and those of the Bhagavad-Gita. My earliest exposure to interfaith teachings and parallels between religions were through the teachings of SRF.

Meditation is central to SRF teachings. Through meditation, followers are encouraged to still their minds to hear the voice of God; their true, inner selves.
Another central idea in SRF is the necessity of controlling one’s thinking and habits. SRF teaches that thoughts are powerful and have the potential to either harm or heal both the thinker and those around her.

Yogananda himself passed away in 1952, but his church lives on with headquarters in California and meditation centers located throughout the world. There are currently more than 500 meditation centers in 54 countries that are directly tied to the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters.

Although I no longer regularly attend the church, The SRF teachings are a significant part of mine & my children’s lives. There are many valuable aspects of the lessons that have positively impacted our world view, including interconnectedness and mindfulness.

I wish I could report that I am always as calm and collected as I was the day my blood pressure was non-readable. But I’m human.

Luckily, when times are trying, and my reactions less than desirable, I’m able to pull from the SRF teachings to remind myself to breathe, center, and focus on ways to deal with the world in ways that are both healthy for me, and for those around me. I haven’t perfected it yet, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

If you are interested in learning more about the teachings of Paramahansa Yoganada, or his life story, check out Autobiography of a Yogi (Which, by the way, was Steve Jobs parting gift to everyone in attendance at his funeral.)

You can also visit their website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/



Dear Universe,

I surrender. 

But this does not mean I’m giving up. 

Giving up indicates a lack of strength & resolve. Giving up means you quit. I’m not a quitter. Never have been, and likely never will be.

Surrendering implies a deeper understanding…a realization that one is powerless over the current situation & an acknowledgement of both release & detachment. Not from an absence of resolve, but from sheer humility. Because sometimes, surrendering takes a courage & strength that are not present in the act of giving up. 

Sometimes, surrendering is the only way to move forward…

People of Sacramento commenting on the news: Christina Martinez

Sacramento Journalism Review

Christina Martinez, early childhood education teacher Christina Martinez, early childhood education teacher

(This is the fifth installment in a weekly series with people who don’t work in journalism commenting on the news. Photography by Kevin Fiscus.)

Meet Christina Martinez.

She’s 35, a Sacramento State graduate, a Pocket-Greenhaven resident, cofounder of an advocacy group called #NoTeenShame and an early childhood education teacher.

I started following Christina on Twitter a couple months ago and have enjoyed the way in which she provides a window into her work, her parenting and her passion for social issues. Her tweets are as likely to make you laugh as they are to make you think.

We met in person for the first time in June at Federalist Public House to talk about media consumption, the city of Sacramento and her thoughts on the news.

The mother-of-four was eager to participate, mentioning how she’s noticed how much her habits differ from those of her teens.

Christina has long kept a journal…

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How a Twelve Hour Trip to the Emergency Room Renewed My Faith In Humanity


We almost made it through the baseball season injury-free. Almost. Then, this past weekend I got the call. I was en route from my daughter’s softball game to my 13-year-old’s final little league game of the season when it happened.

“Your son has a broken foot” said the voice on the other end of the line. Damnit.

When I arrived at the field a few minutes later, another parent was flagging me down, arms waving in the air, directing me to my son, Isaac. There he was, sprawled out under a tree, surrounded by his teammates’ concerned parents who had already iced and wrapped his foot and were now comforting him with encouraging words. As several people helped lift him into the backseat of the car, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for the love with which my child was treated in my absence. “Call me tonight & let me know how he’s doing”, said his coach. I felt my tension subside, touched by their attentiveness…Community

Had I been a first time mom, I may have rushed my kid immediately to the E.R. But given the fact that I’ve been parenting for 18 years now, there’s not much that alarms me. Including sports injuries. And so, I opted to take my son to urgent care first, based on the fact that he was telling me his pain was manageable, and that he thought maybe it was a bad sprain. As soon as we signed in and the doctor pulled off the ice packs, however, I knew I’d made a bad call. His ankle was most definitely broken. So broken, in fact, that the first thing the doctor said to me was “What kind of insurance does he have?” (Side note: Thank heavens for the fact that my son is dually insured through both his dad & I, and that the insurance is more than comprehensive. That fact alone took much of the headache out of what was a long drawn out evening).

So anyway, the on-call urgent care doctor gets us to the X-ray room right away, where we were greeted by an older gentleman of Southeast Asian descent. He immediately gets to work, and as he is positioning Isaac’s leg on the table, he asks him about his injury.

“Ah, baseball” He says. “When you become famous big league player, you give me ticket to your game, okay? Because I help you through first big injury, okay?” My son cracked a smile, & I was glad for that because up until that point he was looking rather grim. The X-ray tech returned to his station to began snapping pictures, & he turned to me as he did & said “You know, won’t be long before he’s big time player. My daughter was young just a time ago, now….she graduate from high school. Valedictorian. Top 3 student in her class. She going to medical school. She want to become a doctor. She go to special program at UCSF, with other young doctors. They took a picture, all of them, when they finished the course. So powerful. I’m so proud.” As you should be, I replied. I remarked on how wonderful that must make her feel, and what a hard working student she must be. “She is,” he replied. “She study many, many hours. And I bribe her sometimes, but don’t tell your son I say that. I take her to mall and let her pick out something she like. She goes off with her friends, and comes back to me when all finished. I feel happy to do that for her.” I immediately understand what he means. He is grateful that he is able to provide his daughter with items she wants. He retuned to the table to reposition my son’s ankle for another X-ray. As he did, he told us of how he & wife immigrated from Vietnam many years ago in hope that their children would have a life better than the one they left behind. A familiar story. We learned that he and his family live roughly 175 miles from the clinic, but that there was no work available in the desolate Central Valley at the time, so he made the choice to temporarily live and work in Sacramento in an effort to provide for his loved ones. He travels home only on his days off. “I miss my family,” he said. “I can’t wait to see them tomorrow. But we work hard and do whatever we have to for our children, don’t we?” Yes, I answered. Yes we do…but all the while I was thinking that this amazing soul was doing more than most. As he finished up the X-rays, he told me that his hopes are for his daughter to eventually return to Fresno country, where she grew up, and practice medicine in the communities there. “There are a lot of farmworkers in Fresno county, you know? A lot of migrant people. They need help. They need care. I tell my daughter, these people you need to give back to. They need good care.”

I nodded in agreement, fighting back tears & thinking of my paternal grandmother, who was a migrant worker. How beautiful it is to witness the telling of someone’s own story. How humbling to learn that though their background & experiences are vastly different than yours, your collective ideals are perfectly aligned. Isaac & I made our way out of the darkened room into the brightly lit hallway & I turned to thank the X-ray tech. I’m not sure if he realized, but I was thanking him for much more than his service. I was also grateful for his willingness to share his wisdom with my son & I….Perseverance. Empathy. 

From urgent care, we were sent to the E.R, where the line was long & the patience of many worn thin. The first thing we noticed upon walking through the double doors was a shirtless boy, about ten years old, holding both hands to his chest in pain. I overheard his mother and grandmother asking someone for a blanket. Apparently the little one was on the basketball court at the time of injury & didn’t have time to gather his shirt before being whisked off the court. Isaac leaned my way from his wheelchair, & reminded me that I had a bag of clothes in the trunk that we were planning on donating earlier that morning. “You probably have something his size.” So, as my son talked to the nurse in triage, I ran back out to my car and searched through the sack of clothing until I found a shirt.  While sprinting back across the parking lot, I saw little guy’s mom coming toward me, about to make a phone call. “Would you like a shirt for your son?” I asked. “He can have it…it’ll fit better than a blanket.” She smiled, thanked me, then held up the shirt and noted that it was just the right size. Later that night, while waiting in the hallway outside the room where my son was having his procedure, I saw the family again. Little guy was in my kids’ old shirt. He grinned & said, “I hope your son gets better real soon so he can play again!” Likewise, I replied. The compassion that children are capable of showing toward one another is a beautiful thing to behold…Consideration

As we entered the ninth hour in the E.R., I began to wilt. Isaac had been rolled into a private room for assessment, & I found myself wandering toward the cafe for some substance. Overwhelmed by the array of granola bars, yogurt parfaits, bagels, & trail mixes before me, I decided on coffee & muffin. As I paid for my selection, the cashier informed me that it was Hospital Happy Hour which meant I get a free coffee with any one purchased. Not thinking, I went back to the pour station and helped myself to another cup, with sugar and two creams. I typically drink black. I sleepily made my way back to the E.R. wondering why I’d taken the extra cup of coffee, when obviously it was just me & Isaac (who was banned from food until after his procedure). I was chiding myself for being wasteful when a young mama in the waiting room spoke to me. “If I’d have know you were going to get coffee, I’d have asked you to get me some!” she quipped as her cranky toddler twisted in her arms and pitched a crayon across the linoleum floor. I knelt to retrieve the crayon, & offered the tired mama my surplus coffee, promising her I hadn’t drank any & explaining the 2 for 1 deal. She eagerly took a sip and said, “I guess it was meant to be!” It most definitely was, as most coincidences are…Synchronicity

In short, Isaac is going to be fine. He’s young, he has the best care, & a fighter’s spirit that he most likely inherited from his family.

My faith in humanity is also going to be alright. One injury, 6 doctors, several uplifting interactions & countless assistants & volunteers reminded me how amazing the human experience can be.

And again, I’m also very, very grateful for my health insurance.

How can I be a Leader when I’m not Even Ready to Parent?

Proud 2 Parent

Cam PhotoLeadership

Leadership is kind of a funny word.  Oxford describes it as “The action of leading a group of people or an organization.”  Well, that doesn’t sound so hard right?

Except for the bit about leading (what is leading anyway?)…oh and finding a group of people that believes in you…oh and the bit about actually being able to lead them, having the time to do it, being able to speak so that those people will listen to you, and even getting people to realize that you could be a leader.

So, other than all that, I could be a leader, or you could be, right?

Exactly!  From the moment your child is born, you’re a leader.  Parents are leaders.  Think about it, this is probably one of the only times in most of our lives that someone depends almost entirely on us…for everything.  Our kids literally couldn’t survive…

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Lessons I Learned From My Father (Part 1)

American River,   March 2015

Self-Actualization. Sacramento River
March 2015

Last night, I hung up the phone with my father, and began to silently debrief the whirlwind conversation we’d just had. Anyone who has ever engaged in a discussion with my dad will know exactly what I’m referring to. He has this tendency to barrel his way through an issue in a no nonsense kind of manner, and then quickly switch to another idea before you’ve even have a chance to formulate a response to the first topic. Sometimes I feel like I’m performing verbal acrobats when I’m talking to him, although no manner of appropriate pause or clever interjection will ever make communication with him any smoother. It’s not that he’s insensitive or dismissive. Not in the least. It’s just that his thoughts are almost always two steps ahead of his words, so much so that he’ll literally hop up mid conversation and leave everyone rushing to finish their closing statements.

The question of “Where’d Dad go?” has become a running joke in our household, because if  family conversation or household activity pauses long enough, he’ll just quietly excuse himself to a more productive venture. Sounds peculiar, I know. But I promise you, his loved ones find it one of his most endearing quirks.

I used to be embarrassed of my dad. In retrospect, I see that it’s normal for children to be ashamed of their parents at one point or another as they are growing up. But my embarrassment had less to do with who he was, as it did with how I feared his uniqueness would reflect upon me, especially growing up in a neighborhood that had yet to know diversity.

My childhood was spent in a suburban utopia, complete with wide tree-lined streets, top-notch public schools, and neighbors that brought homemade cookies each year during Christmas time. My parents sacrificed many things to ensure that my sisters and I were raised in the neighborhood that we grew up in. I see that now. We often have gain clarity  as seasoned adults that we lack as carefree youth.

I was embarrassed of our old LTD cars, and dad’s hobby of tinkering with them incessantly. And I’m not talking about souping them up, lowrider fashion. I’m talking about FIXING them. They were constantly breaking down, and dad would patiently put them back together, garage door open, tools strewn across the driveway for the world to see.  “Why can’t you just buy something NEW?!” I’d complain, glancing enviously at the shiny station wagon my classmate was dropped to school in. But dad wasn’t about new. Nope. In fact one of my earliest memories is of our weekend trips to thrift stores, where my sisters and I happily pick out bags of mismatched toys from the 99 cent bin. That is until I was old enough to realize that my classmates ruthlessly bullied any kid that dared to wear threads bought at a second-hand store (This was all long before hipsters & Macklemore made thrift store shopping a trendy activity).

What I didn’t understand then, was that my dad’s own childhood profoundly impacted the way he operated as an adult. Though Sacramento was a long way from the dingy garage he lived in in East L.A., and even farther yet from the Texas cotton fields he played in as the toddler son of a migrant farm worker, he brought the principles of poverty with him even as he purchased his first home in Sacramento’s coveted Pocket area. Principle 1: Don’t buy new if you don’t have to.

I didn’t understand a lot of things back then. Like the fact that my dad was right when he told me to be proud of my beautiful brown skin, even as some of my peers were poking fun of my pigment and my surname. I couldn’t comprehend why my parents took it so seriously when, later, I reported that there was a severe bullying problem going on in the upper-grade classrooms of my elementary school. A problem that had all the tell-tale ugliness of race and class discrimination. When my dad insisted upon meeting with the teachers to bring the issues to light, I remember wondering if my folks were overreacting.

Back then I couldn’t make sense of why my father felt the need to repeatedly recount to my sisters and I, the lessons he’d learned as a young boy in East L.A. And why his standards for us were so high, in regards to both education and personal conduct. Or how he’d often sit at the dinner table after a full day’s work, starring into space at some far away memory that we were not a part of. On those nights, sometimes I’d catch glimpse of a tear sliding down his cheek. I didn’t understand that either.

A few weeks ago, my dad celebrated another birthday. He talked about the accomplishments in his life, as well as the struggles. And, like always, he ended the momentary bout of reminiscing on a high note with an optimistic tribute to all the blessings in our lives.

My dad has never been one to purchase frivolous things. New cars, designer clothes, custom accessories…they aren’t alluring in his eyes. Because of that, he isn’t much of a gift giver, not in the traditional sense, anyway. Birthdays and events roll around and it’s likely that he won’t go out of his way to buy something just for the sake of marking the occasion. Someone asked me recently if I’ve held onto any of the jewelry my dad bought me as a child. I laughed.

Dad never bought me jewelry, but he’s decorated my life with a thousand pearls of wisdom. I wear them proudly every day, head held high and the confidence  of knowing that I am equipped with the skills needed to gracefully navigate through life and all of it’s thrilling complexity.