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Beacon Academy

Beacon Academy serves low-income students living in Boston and surrounding urban areas. Most (80%) of our students’ families live below the poverty level and the remainder of them live just above it. They don’t always have money for food, often experience instability in their housing, and are plagued by job insecurity. Of our 247 graduates and 22 current students, 57% are Black, 28% Hispanic, 9% Biracial, 3% Caucasian, and 3% Asian. 140 are female-identifying and 129 are male-identifying. Most students become the first in their families to finish high school or complete college, and many break multi-generational cycles of teenage parenthood and adult poverty. In short, Beacon students represent the most underserved Boston residents; yet they have the grit, talent, and determination to change the trajectory of their lives.

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Read Jennifer Vega’s American Voices Award nominated essay

I Didn’t Know What She Looked Like

I could not gather the courage to say goodbye to my grandmother as we were leaving the terminal. She looked melancholy and I knew it was because I was leaving. She saw me looking at her and turned around thinking I had not seen the tears slide slowly down her face as she smiled at me. I didn’t know why she was so sad, while my grandfather, on the other hand, was sitting next to me telling me jokes and making me laugh hysterically. When we got to Citala, I got off the bus and left with a man I didn’t know but that my grandfather told me would bring me to my mom.

For days it seemed, I went from city to city and wasn’t in one place for long. Sometimes we went days without eating to the point where I would almost faint. I didn’t know anyone I was traveling with, which made it really hard. I didn’t have any money with me, and I would see the other travelers buy galguras while I was there on my own, trying my best not to think about my grandparents because it made me feel lonely. We continued to go from one bus to another and from one house to the next: I felt weak. I didn’t know when we left Honduras and got to Guatemala nor did I realize when we got to Mexico. At some point I felt baffled and lost. I didn’t know where I was or where I was heading.

After what felt like ages, we got to the border between the United States and Mexico. I didn’t know what day, time, or place it was, but I still kept going. I was almost there: at least that’s what I thought.

“Today we are going to cross the río grande, everyone will be in different groups so that it’s easier to cross! Don’t look up because the helicópteros can detect us because of your eyes,” yelled a man who seemed to be in charge of the group.

What did they mean by “crossing the big river”? I didn’t know what that meant until I saw it. It was immense. The distance from one river bank to the other was the size of a futbol field. I didn’t choose my group, they did. They used the floating part of a tire so that the river wouldn’t pull us downwards. I was scared that the river would pull me down, but the lady that was with me grabbed me to make sure it didn’t happen.

As soon as we crossed the river, we had to climb atop the river banks, which was the hardest part because the mud made it really slippery, so I was trying to climb, but fell down a couple of times. After that, we had to change clothes as fast as possible and my jeans wouldn’t go down. “It’s my pantalón, it won’t go down!” I yelled at a lady who was telling me to hurry up before they left without me.

“Hurry up niña before they leave you, you have gone through too much and you’re so close to the sueño Americano. Come here I’ll help you,” the lady who had been the only one helping me out told me.

“Thank you very much señora, you have no idea how thankful I am that I’m with you and also for all your help,” I told her as she helped me with me pants.

I finished changing as everyone else was running towards a parking place that was at the other side of the bushes. They held a piece of the fence up so that we could cross and I crossed as fast as my little legs would let me and got in the car where everyone else was.  The car started, and as it was coming out of the parking place a surprise awaited: the police were there and they stopped the car.

They got everyone out, and they all spoke in what sounded like some alien talk. They all spoke English, but I didn’t know that. I was so focused on following their hand gestures that I didn’t realize when they put me in the police car.

They brought me to the police station and after one night in what felt like a freezer I was transported to a detention program where during the day we went to school, and after school we went to our caretakers’ house whom we called “aunts.” I spent almost two months there before I could go to Boston, Massachusetts. I woke up at one o’clock in the morning and was brought to the airport by one of the workers from the school. We got to the airport around 5:30 a.m. and waited for the airplane, which would leave at 6:00 a.m. We got on one plane and had to get off of it and get on another one after two hours of traveling. The second airplane brought me to Boston, Massachusetts, and I was amazed by the city below the airplane. I wanted to see more before we landed, but suddenly we were touching down and the time to look at everything from above was over.

As I went out to the place where everyone was waiting for family members, I realized I didn’t know what my mom looked like, and I told the teacher with me and she said not to worry, that my mom would recognize me. I was standing and saw a man and a woman approaching me and I didn’t know who they were until they introduced themselves; my journey was over; or so I thought.

The moment I saw them walking towards me I wasn’t really looking at them. I was thinking about that moment before I left my village. I remembered staring at my grandmother’s face in vague amazement, and thinking “this woman sitting by my bed has been the only motherly figure in my life and now a complete stranger will take her place; I know to me she will always be my mom, but soon I’ll have to call someone else mom.” She looked down and caught me looking at her; she didn’t realize it, but I saw that tear slide down her cheek before she got a chance to look away. Little did I know that would be my last memory of her before leaving, the last moment I would have with her. As a ten year old nothing seemed out of the normal. I was going on a trip to my mom’s, and I would be back soon.

But five years have passed and I still wonder when this trip will be over. When will I be able to see my mom again, when will I be able to hug her and feel loved once again? My grandmother didn’t choose to send me to Boston: my mom did and I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must’ve been for her to let me go. I did not choose to come to Boston, Massachusetts. At that time, I didn’t even have to make decisions myself, but soon I would have to start because my life took and unpredictable turn the day I left my beloved Canton San Miguel Ingenio: my home.