Pen & Paper Saved Me: On the Path to Self-Love
A shy little 7 year old in a 2nd grade Catholic elementary school in the Bronx was painfully quiet. Her teacher gave her a red journal and told her that the class writes every day in it. That 7 year old girl took that advice very literally.
This is the story I tell people when they ask me why I write. That it’s something that came to me out of necessity. I spent a lot of time with that journal, and various other one throughout the years. I wrote because I felt like I had no voice in my reality. I felt like no one truly cared to hear my far out ideas and thoughts on society and my life. So I made pen and paper my best friend, recounting the way cute boys would make my heart flutter, the latest adventure in a Babysitter’s Club book or a daily check in on my emotions.
I was a reserved quiet person for most of my young life. I felt like an outcast, never really feeling accepted by my peers because I wasn’t hip to the styles and I didn’t feel pretty enough. My journal helped me to create a fantasy world to survive my surroundings. The lack of a social life and the need to be accepted became more present in high school. As everyone went through puberty, I was a late bloomer. All the girls around me were having their first boyfriends and I was still clueless on the world of boys and much less confident to venture into it. I had not received much guidance in the area of love from my mother; I was raised in a strictly Catholic household so the topic of sex was taboo.
I wrote with more fervor than ever in my teenage years. In those notebooks, I confessed the insecurities and grievances I had with my body. In the melodramatic senior year, all my high school woes came to a head. That summer, I was betrayed by the first guy that had ever shown interest in me, my family moved away and left me with my godmother and I had lost many friends. A cloud of depression descended upon me.
I hated everything and everyone. I felt so alone and completely abandoned. To this day, I know it was writing that kept me from seriously attempting to take my life. My relationship to my journal was made serious in these crucial years of my life.
I suffered with depression for years after high school as I slowly got to the bottom of it with new experiences and new journals. In my freshman year, I discovered the Black Studies department. At first I was reluctant to take any classes because I still was in denial of my African roots. It had always been a sensitive and hate-ful place for me. For all my life, I realized that year, I hated myself for being Black. That realization alone did not eradicate the hate but began the journey to unlearning the hate.
A turning point for my depression and self-hatred was my senior year. I took a class called “Women in the Caribbean” that was the missing link for me in the Black Studies department. The class touched on the subject of Afro-Latinas. I was excited, as finally I had found something I could connect to on my path of self-acceptance. What I found as I wrote my final paper on Afro-Latinas was that there was a lack of the Afro-Latina experience written. So, having been a writer my whole life, I decided after that to write my experience.
After 2 years of unearthing trauma and years of hatred, I wrote and self-published my book, Hija De Mi Madre (My Mother’s Daughter). It is a combination of memoirs, poems and research material that not only explain the effects of race on identity from an academic standpoint but also shares my life as a living example. Upon completing this task, I began to speak to audiences about my experience. These days find me talking about the Afro-Latina experiences at conferences and colleges, hoping that my story resonates with another person on their own path to self love.