My family came to the U.S. from Mexico. I used to be ashamed of our humble lifestyle. I offer these photos to show I’m now proud.

This story won a third prize in News Decoder’s Ninth Storytelling Contest.

Originally from Zapotitlan Palmas, a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, my parents and two older siblings immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s. Soon after their arrival, I was born.

My parents shared the same dream as those who came before them — to build a better life, not only for themselves but also for their children. And so they did.

Although my siblings started out in public school, they received most of their education from private school. Three years after my family’s arrival in the United States and through a series of fortunate events, my eldest sister found herself in the only non-denominational private school in our town.

Because of her, my brother followed suit, and then my turn came. I, too, started in public school, but by the time I was in First Grade, private schooling would be all I would know.

Private school felt like a different world to me, a place where most kids came from wealthy families and whose parents held “important” jobs like doctors or lawyers. In comparison, my parents worked multiple jobs — landscaping, cleaning homes and condos, all while working their full-time job at a country club.

I felt my family, from Mexico, stood out in the U.S.

Every morning on the drive to school, I saw how different my world was compared to theirs. We’d pass used car dealerships and rundown plazas with a few thriving businesses catering to the Latino and Black community. In those early mornings, I’d notice a group of men gathered at the abandoned U-Save grocery store plaza waiting to be picked up, not knowing if they’d have a job for the day.

As we made our way through the city’s historic downtown, I’d start to see people with their leashed dogs on their morning walks.

As we’d turn onto McGregor Boulevard, a two-way street lined with lavish homes and home to the Edison and Ford winter estate, I knew I was far from home. I’d imagine myself living in one of those homes with my family.

As a brown kid, a mere glimpse of my classmates’ “perfect” families made me want that life completely. I constantly wondered what other kids in my class thought of me.

When my parents picked me up or came to school events, deep down, I felt embarrassed. I knew we stood out, so I wondered if they were judging us. I cared so deeply about what they thought of me because I wanted to fit in and have what they had, a life that felt like it flowed so easily.

I am no longer ashamed.

It wasn’t until my Eighth Grade year, when because of me my Mom and Dad missed a parents meeting for a trip to Washington D.C., that my outlook towards my parents and myself changed.

They asked me why I had not told them about the meeting. I didn’t know how to respond because part of me didn’t want them to show up and be judged. The other parents would show up in nice attire while my parents would show up still in their work uniforms.

My parents picked up on this and told me, “If the reason you didn’t tell us was because you’re embarrassed of us, then that shouldn’t be the case. We do the work we do for you and for you to have everything you do.”

I felt ashamed for judging my parents.

As individuals surrounded by wealth, we often feel judged for what we don’t have. Having grown up with such a privileged education, I had forgotten my place in the world. I had forgotten how far my family traveled for me to be where I am.

After that moment, I was more intentional about building a better relationship with my parents and myself. It meant  understanding my identity as the first U.S.-born child in my family, with Mixtec and Mexican roots. It meant growing closer to my mother, who embodied the strength, resilience, elegance and wisdom I admired.

Tragically, she passed away in a fatal car accident my family was in three years ago. In that moment, I lost parts of myself. But as I continue through life, I honor her memory by embracing my humble roots and remembering how far from home I am.

In this series of photographs, I share my “imperfect” life and family. From photos of my home and town and portraits of myself and family, this is what I am most proud of and proud of coming from.

Three questions to consider:

  1. Why was the author ashamed of her background?
  2. What happened to make her proud of her roots?
  3. The author says the photos show an “imperfect” life and family. What photos would you choose to show your family?
Alistair Lyon author news decoder-150x150

Miriam Hernandez comes from the U.S. state of Florida and is in her second-to-last year of high school at the Westover School in Connecticut. Her favorite subjects include Art, English and Science. Outside of school, she enjoys taking photos and practicing Chinese. In the future, she hopes to continue growing as a photographer.

Share This
CultureArtOnce ashamed, I’m now proud of my family’s Mexican roots.