Letter from the editor: Here is my story, and why I want to tell yours

By Kimberly Cortez | September 20, 2023 12:00pm

Media Credit: Kimberly Cortez / The Beacon

The inside of books, magazines, newspapers, loose leaf papers, sticky notes, notebooks, diaries — they all serve as canvases for the writing my body allows me to produce. The hunger I have for writing is satiated only when my words and thoughts are able to be released by the cathartic nature of paper to pen. Writing for me is something intrinsic that begs to be answered. 

My childhood was shaped by the writing I consumed and my very own creation of it. The stories of adventure, love, death, nature and more compelled me to search for something bigger than myself.

I always thought it was natural to be this way, and in many ways it is. By our very nature, humans possess the innate ability to tell a story. We gossip, we read books, perhaps we watch movies. But writers know the importance of spreading these stories to others and crafting them into pieces of art — something I have become accustomed to as a journalist. 

But storytelling for me is cultural as well. There is a power and resistance rooted in storytelling. The spilt blood on the hands of colonizers still come back as whispers of an old folktale — it’s this sort of generational storytelling that helped me understand the world around me. 

My dad grew up in a small town outside of Puebla, Mexico called San Jerónimo Ocotitlán. Poverty ravaged his life and family. Living in a small cement house, mirroring the dimensions of a dorm room with his two brothers and grandma, he had big dreams of becoming a professional soccer player.

But after he finished elementary school, my grandma didn’t have enough money to keep sending him to school. So, he spent the rest of his childhood helping my grandma make money to survive by selling pottery and picking corn. 

At 13 years old, he had no hope of furthering his education and his dreams were relinquished by the cycle of poverty. 

Much more fearlessly than I ever could be, my dad decided he was going to immigrate to the United States at the age of 19 years old. He made the treacherous journey via trains, cars and buses up until he got to the Sonoran Desert, which The New York Times has described as a “graveyard for migrants.”

My dad described lying on the ground of the Sonoran Desert wondering if he might freeze to death, just for the chance of having a better life. 

It was this moment that allowed me to make sense of borders.

My mom was born into a 36-year-long civil war in Guatemala. The brutality of this war lingered within every facet of life. My mom recalls a time in which her brother almost got beaten to death by a government-backed military group that had mistaken him for a drug dealer. 

Violence was a tool for subordination, and it proved to be steady. 

I get my passion from my mom. She is hot-headed, quick to remark on any given topic. It is no surprise to me that she had ambitious dreams. She journaled about becoming a mother and starting a career in teaching or becoming a social worker. 

But by the time she was 32, her dreams were a far cry from reality. She was a single mom of three kids and she didn’t have enough money to complete her degree. With little options remaining, she dropped out and started working at a pharmacy.

Burdening her the most, however, was her inability to provide for her children. She recalls a pivotal moment that made her decide to immigrate to the United States: her children asking her for more food because they were hungry, only to realize she didn’t have any money to feed them anything. 

It was this moment that allowed me to make sense of poverty. 

My mom’s journey to the United States was much more dangerous than the one my dad took. The first leg of the journey involves crossing the Usumacinta River, an obstacle that leaves many South Americans immigrating by foot to the United States either dead or deported back to their home countries. 

After that, a 15-day train ride aboard the “train of death” takes you right to the Sonoran Desert. 

I tell you all this because as I have grown up, I’ve realized that these stories are a part of my legacy. They linger within me and feed my curiosity to learn the stories of how people get their voices, hearts and souls. 

When I think about why my parents fled their homes to the United States, I think of how their experiences are not unique to them. Everyday, we see people dying of war, famine and poverty — most of us paralyzed by our inability to do much. 

But the power of stories and testimonies that come from everyday people, like my parents, allows us to believe in something bigger than ourselves. 

In the last couple months, I have been thinking a lot about why I want to become a journalist. Before this, I always saw myself in a career that tried to change the systems that caused my parents to leave their homes to begin with. I saw myself in politics or law — anything that would make my parents proud. 

After all, they risked their lives to give me the opportunity for a better life.  

When I told my parents I wanted to become a journalist, I thought that they would criticize me for choosing a field that doesn’t pay well or something else. But my parents didn’t do that. Instead, they told me something very powerful.

“We need people like you to tell our stories.”

A first-gen, queer, Latina journalist who told herself for so long that she wasn’t capable of making it in this industry — that is who needs to tell their story.  

When I applied to be the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor, it was because I knew what it was like to feel different from others based on my identities. But, it was also because I saw the value in sharing these differences.

Students of marginalized communities or those who don’t feel heard at this school — I don’t know what it is like to be in your shoes. I won’t pretend like I do. I can do my best to listen and to hear what you have to say, but your experience in this life is singular. 

Rather, I invite you to share your story. To tell others how you have navigated life, how this world is impacting you and to show your unique perspective.

Change happens when we use our voices to empower the lived experiences of others. It can bring attention to how systems of oppression exist within this institution. It can call upon the student body to stand up against the inexcusable actions of those in power. We can learn from how others have transformed their pain into doing good for this world.

Students and the UP community at large, we need your stories now more than ever. So, what’s stopping you from sharing it?

Kimberly Cortez is the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor for The Beacon. They can be reached at cortez25@up.edu. 

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