It is sad to think that a day as important as International Day of the Girl (IDG) was only created last year in 2012. There are women around the world who fight for equality like Malala Yousafzai and are not recognized for their strength.
Observing IDG is a way for all girls and women to collectively come together to mark the struggles that they endure. This year, I celebrated IDG with my feminism class taught by our inspirational Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez. We started our celebration with an assembly, which we presented to our entire school, sharing all of our stories of how race, class, and gender have affected our lives. It was so rewarding to be on a stage with so many talented young men and women to hear that their struggles. Here is my story that I shared with the school. I hope that you will hear a little bit of your story in mine:
Spanish was my first language; I don’t have an accent since I went to grade school in New York and classes were taught in English. I lived in a bilingual home with a Spanish-speaking mother and an English-speaking father. I am not confronted as a tourist when I go to Spain because I look the part and play it well.
I am not American enough to stand out in Spain and I am not Spanish enough to stand out in America. Although this is a gift, it is also a curse. I feel that I have almost no fixed cultural ground beneath me, no place, to which I can anchor myself. I am constantly in limbo.
I am American, but I am also Catalan and Spanish; however, I feel that America has no real culture that I can hold on to. My only cultural link is within my family. My family makes me Catalan and Spanish and I love it, but I have no fixed identity because I didn’t exactly grow up with one fixed culture.
Another important part of my identity has to do with my recent illness, during which I lost all cognitive function, I was not certain of what I was experiencing. Being a teenager is always difficult, but to be a teenager who is catatonic and relies on others is probably one of the biggest challenges I have faced.
To lose myself in an alternate reality, filled with eclectic emotion and then, suddenly to return, recalling that I was once independent, but be unable to fulfill it; that expectation of being the same person is the most splitting feeling.
I was at a disadvantage in life and still am. I have forgotten many memories that I have been told I will never remember. That void will always be a mystery to me and I will carry it with me forever. The illness that changed me will always be inside me and to a certain extent, I will always live in fear that it will return.
It is an illness unknown to most; but it is a horror to anyone who experiences it. It takes your mind and your speech and distorts your hearing and sight. It will not let you eat or sleep. It will play with your heart just for fun, and maybe, it will make it stop.
Your arms and legs will not be your own; they belong to the illness, an evil tyrant with no consideration of you. I will introduce you to this tyrant: her name is Anti NMDA Receptor Encephalitis and she is my best friend and my worst enemy. I hate her for what she did, but love her for what she made me.
I know what it is like to be disabled and to fight for my life: she taught me that struggle. The illness did not literally hold power over me but as it is uncontrollable, it held power over my mind and my body. I am thankful to have survived this roller-coaster ride and I hope to reach out to other survivors in the future so they know they are not alone.
I overthrew the tyrant but I did not kill her. Killing her would make me a tyrant as well. I would much rather learn from her mistakes in hopes that one day I can become a respected leader, a leader in activism and all aspects of my life.
Although my story and Malala’s are very different, our experiences have driven us to create change and have given us a greater appreciation of life. Malala is an inspiration to me. I never realized how important education was until I had to relearn how to read and write; because of my background and my class I had the resources that gave me a full recovery.
I am so grateful for the undivided attention that was given to me. But to think that millions of children around the world are left illiterate as I was is devastating. Watching her speech at the UN this past summer makes me more passionate to share her wisdom.
As she says, “One child. One teacher. One book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”
Her wisdom is evident in her words and her ability to address all is outstanding. Her goal has expanded and there is no trace of disdain in her words. I aspire to live with the amount of love she holds within her. She is my role model and she should be a role model to all girls and women worldwide.