is a Psychology student in Lehman College. A native New Yorker born to Dominican parents. Shirley wishes one day to inspire other little girls to pursue a career in health care too.
“Write your name.” The words glared back at me like alphabet soup, making my brain feel mushy and soft like the Mr. Softee ice cream my Mami always bought us in July. Being a daughter of Dominican immigrants meant that learning Spanish was key to surviving in terms of communication with my family. This meant that for me and my brother, our first language was Spanish, and the world of English seemed like a foreign land even though we were living in America. What didn’t make it any better is that I lived in Washington Heights or “Little Dominican Republic,” where the sounds of merengue travelled from the barbershops and the scent of pastelitos filled the streets. As a little girl, my parents both taught me how to read and write in Spanish with a famous book called El Libro Nacho, a Dominican children’s book to teach reading and writing. Every time I read from the book, I could imagine the words in my head turning into beautiful pictures: my favorite word to imagine was “isla” or island. In my head, the word isla translated into the image of my parent’s homeland. I could see the crystal-clear waters of Boca Chica and the old, chipped paint from Abuela’s little house. When I entered preschool, I was put in the ESL classes with mainly students who lived in other countries and from there, I was put to the test to learn English. Ms. Nieves was our teacher; she was small and old with so many wrinkles that were full of stories from her life. Ms. Nieves smelled sweet like cotton candy but played no games when it came to us learning how to write our names and learn English. One of the first activities that we had to learn was how to pronounce simple letters in English like “dog,” “umbrella,” and “sun,” based on stories. First, Ms. Nieves would write a story about her morning in Spanish and we would all read it in unison; then Ms. Nieves would flip the page to the English translation and call on us one by one to pronounce each word. This was my favorite part of the day because Ms. Nieves always drew funny pictures next to the words depicting the actions in the story. I loved imagining the stories and wanted to improve my writing so I could create my own stories.
I remember, one day, Ms. Nieves came up to me and gave me a book: “Take this with you, it is very important to read at home.” I was so excited to have my own English book to read at home I could have jumped off of the walls like a little frog. Once the bell rang, I ran home and sat down to finish my little picture book. At the time, my father and brother were also learning English, so we all sat down together in our living room, while Mami made us arroz con pollo, to read my picture book and teach other what each word meant. In this moment I felt connected to my family; we were all sharing how much we had learned of the English language with each other.
My mom was the only one who had no time to learn a new language, but she still had a mesmerizing way with words full of old Dominican tales and saying. Her favorite saying was “Al mal tiempo, buena cara” or “In bad times, show your best face.” Mami loved saying this to me when I was sad that I could not have a good day at school. I admired my mother, as she was always a strong and independent woman who provided for me despite our hardships as a family.While Papi was at college, working nights as a security guard, and my brother was adjusting in his own ESL classes, she always found a way to work hard in this country despite not knowing the language or having much schooling. My mother was not the best writer or reader even in Spanish, but she still took the time to sit down and show me what little she knew so I could develop the skill from an early age. Every time my mother read me a story in Spanish, it sounded like the soft birds that hummed outside my window in the spring mornings.
I asked my dad and brother if we could all learn how to write together and from that moment, we taught each other how to use the words and stories we imagined to create sentences on paper. After a few months of practicing at home, I fell in love with writing and summarized every new book Ms. Nieves gave me until the end of the school year. Eventually, my English was nearly fluent to the point where I became my dad and brother’s main teacher. My love for writing and reading was a confusing journey at first, but with the help of my family and imagination, I found a great tool to express my dreams and thoughts.
is a student at Lehman college. She is a New York native with big dreams to travel the world. Currently, Emelly is studying Sociology in hopes to one day be a school guidance counselor; and one day, a principal.
The song of nature fills the earth, but there are no singers in sight. The freely swaying of the wind causes a breakout of dance, but there are no dancers in sight. Tap tap tap. My body is wrapped by the swaying winds and I become one with the sound of nature. In the midst of movement, I discovered that sound does not create movement, but movement creates sound.
At a young age, I was drawn to the performing arts. On stage, I felt like a fish in water. That was where I belonged. In the third grade, I participated in a dance afterschool program. I am pretty sure that my mom placed me there to buy her more time until she got out of work to pick me up. I remember my dance teacher, Ms.Rodriguez. In my young eyes, that woman was unstoppable. She seemed so free and when she danced it was like supernatural forces tugged my heart at the sight of her passionate twist and turns. Chronological time was non-existent during dance rehearsals; Ms.Rodriguez was the swaying wind that led me to the expression of movement. How do I speak when there were no words to say? How can I express the excitement and joy in my little heart when there were no words to do so? Dancing. My movement created my sound. I didn’t know much vocabulary in third grade, but what my mouth couldn’t communicate, my feet were able to.
As the years went by, I began to dance more formally in dance companies. Every step, every jump, every move I made, made a new sound. I felt like a baby bird finally flying out of its nest, flying above the clouds and into the sunset. I could travel the world and dance, maybe in Paris, Italy…and if I can make it in New York, then I can make it anywhere. I’ll dance my way to my destiny. A step at a time. Every step, every jump, every move I made, made a new sound. Yet, all that I could hear was silence. And the silence interrupted by my alarm clock.
Sometimes, dreams don’t come true. They stay folded up with the blanket on your bed. After leaving Ms. Rodriguez’s dance program, Mama didn’t have time to take her to new dance companies. Mama always worked and made just enough to pay home bills and dance companies were not one of those bills. The little third grader jumps in my heart at the sound of melodies and new rhythm. The sound of bachata and merengue at my family’s Dominican celebrations still takes me to meet the third grader from Ms. Rodriguez’s dance class again. I will never stop loving dance. It’s my sound. My escape. My language when words just aren’t enough.