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.
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:
- Why was the author ashamed of her background?
- What happened to make her proud of her roots?
- The author says the photos show an “imperfect” life and family. What photos would you choose to show your family?
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.
What a brilliant “essay” – thank you. For those of us who have had such an easy time growing up, & now, I am sorry that your mother has died & that your family has struggled.
And now you attend Westover! A wonderful school which will lead you to an equally wonderful college …& the world will be your oyster!
Westover is fortunate to have a young woman such as Miriam. I am an old graduate of Westover and hope your days at the school provide you with more tools for what I sense will be a future of making meaningful contributions to our troubled world.
I knew Miriam. She used to go to the same school as me. I’d always do my best to say hello to her and make her feel like she was important to me. To this day, I constantly refer to Miriam as one of the most gentile people I’ve ever had the chance to meet. Even though she is no longer Florida, I will never forget her impact she had on me and the countless others who experienced her honest and polite attitude. Miriam. If you see this, I want you to know that no matter what happens in life, you will never be forgotten. You will always have a place in my heart as someone who was a kind soul no matter the situation.
This was an incredibly well-written and moving article, you did a beautiful job of conveying the struggle you’ve faced and the range of emotions you’ve went through. You are a great writer and a kind, wonderful person, I hope this article wins every award it can!
throughout our childhoods and life in general, you have been the most creative and talented person i have known. i am so lucky to have grown up with you and to have you in my life. the way you see and interpret the world is so special, and you show that both through your words and photographs, which is an amazing talent. you are so amazing and are gonna do such life changing things in the world. westover and everyone in your life is so lucky to have you. i love you so much!!!!
This article really moved me. The feeling of being ashamed of your roots is something I could connect too. Even though I personally am not ashamed, I still thought this article captured that emotion.
Dear Mariam, you are a beautiful writer and your photography is first rate – really very good. I can feel your home and family through your work and it is most moving. When you’re young it’s so hard to be different, but you are learning that as you grow any feelings of shame enable feelings of empathy, and to me empathy is one of the most useful human emotions. By the way, I feel like I know you a little because I’m Chris’ aunt and though him and your sister I’ve had the opportunity to know your family some. Now, through your wonderful essay and photos I’m getting to know you too. Much love xox
miriam do you have any social media accounts? you really inspire me and i would love to hear more about you! God bless