Finding A Sense of Place


Yuriana Espino Sosa

I woke up every morning to the smell of coffee or my mom’s loud music, often hearing her jam to Vicente Fernandez on a Saturday morning, meaning she was cleaning and waiting for my brother and I to get up to go to the grocery. On our way home we stopped for ice cream, vanilla, next to the bus station. The ice cream melted instantly. We’d play outside with the neighbor kids until the sun disappeared into oblivion and only the moonlight lit the streets. It didn’t matter how late it was because I felt safe. Even when my mom asked me to go buy milk and bread to have a late-night snack, everything felt safe. 

My home back in Mexico is a beautiful place, and I wish more people could see it through my eyes because nothing else compares, at least not to me. I loved the smell of humid mornings following a rain, or when the sun peaked, the sound of the traffic growing louder and louder. From time to time, I can close my eyes and hear and see it all againthe sound of birds darting across the cityscape, the smell of fresh oranges across the street, or even the vendors passing through my house trying to sell local goods. My house was on a hill so you could see the whole city, pristine at dusk. The last time I stood outside to admire the view, I grabbed a chair and sat outside. It was a little bit chilly and windy but the weather didn’t bother me. I sat there watching the city light up one last time. 

As soon as I heard the words, “we’re leaving,” flashbacks from all of my nine years of life raced through my mind. It was impressive how much I could remember in just a few seconds. I was next to grandma, and when I looked at her she was trying to be strong and hold back tears. I looked at mom, she too was crying, and I soon followed. I remember spending every summer with my grandma. My mom had to work a lot so she would send me with grandma every time I didn’t have school. She hated being called “grandma,” unwilling to accept any name that made her feel “old.” 

Instead, I called her “Mamá Berta,” her name. At that moment what made my heart break was my mom’s look of sadness. She was leaving behind what I was taking with me. I had to go with my mother and she was leaving hers behind. She had to leave the person who cared about her the most, the one who always put food on a plate, the one who never judged, no matter what. I felt like I was taking that away from my mother because she was leaving all of that so I could have a better life. 

At that point, I closed the door and opened another to a new world. I came to this country when I was 9 years old with no knowledge of the English language. I was lost in a place where no one understood me. I was living in Washington and the first couple of months were hard, new school, new people, new everything. I didn’t understand what people were saying, and they didn’t understand me either. I still remember the first day of school. The fifth-grade teacher handed me a popsicle stick and asked me to put it inside the cup that said the food I wanted for lunch. She had cups with different food labels. Of course, I didn’t understand that at that time. I didn’t speak English and she didn’t speak Spanish, nor was there anyone in the classroom that did. I was lost. 

She tried to explain. I could see her frustration, but it wasn’t her fault, nor mine. It was a hard first day that turned into hard weeks, then months. People made fun of me, whispering to their friends about me, even my own kind would make fun of me for even trying to speak English. I tallied all the reasons why I wanted to leave. I remember crying to my mom: “I want to go back.” 

I slowly started to accept the fact that this was my new home, then halfway through the fifth grade we moved to Oregon. Once again a new school, new people, new everything. I took it as an opportunity to start fresh. No one knew me and therefore I thought things were going to be different, but I struggled. Again, a classroom full of laughter all geared toward me. The teacher asked me to go up front and read something out loud. I tried pronouncing some of the words but they did not come out right. I cried and ran out of the classroom, thinking to myself, “you are weak.” 

I hated writing and reading all the way to the middle of seventh grade because I didn’t understand what I was writing or reading. There was no Spanish translation. Adapting to a new language was a struggle, maybe one of the biggest challenges in my life, but I wasn’t going to give up. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and started writing. I grabbed a book and started reading. I never liked raising my hand in class, but I started doing it. I started speaking up even when I was shut down. 

I found myself writing almost every night, fighting through the cramps in my hand. I wrote until all of my thoughts were gone. Soon I realized writing was my safe space. I looked at it as a way to speak my mind. Every time I write something I put my mind and soul into it. And I feel like every word I spell is a piece of me. I found writing as a way to speak, without my mouth moving, and it saved me in a way. I think my journal knows more about me than any other person. Whenever I felt like crying I realized there was no need to cry, no need to be sad, because it was all gone and made into words on a page. 

In school, when I’m assigned an essay, I feel like it’s not me writing. I think it’s a machine that’s inside of me programmed to do that job because they’re not my words, it’s research and “evidence” from some random website I found on Google. In school you are told, “write about the book we read in class” and on my own it’s “write about the first thing that comes to your mind.” I am in control.

I always remind myself that if I had not come to this place and struggled my way to the top then I would’ve never picked up that pencil. Being bilingual means I can do it in both languages, it adds more meaning to my words, and it means that I can help people who identify with my story. Writing saved me and all the stories in this magazine make me realize I’m not alone. I am not the only person who has struggled. At first, when my adviser Ivan Miller talked to me about writing my story, I was scared, almost speechless at first, because I didn’t know how it would turn out. Then when he mentioned the story would run with some incredible personal storiesBrisa Silva exploring the western United States, Izaiah Fisher flying to New Orleans on a whim, or Madelyn Nover interviewing best-selling author Richard Louv about nature-deficit disordermy soul felt like it left my body. Reading all of these stories made me feel part of something. I always felt alone in a way, but after meeting all of these wonderful people and reading their stories I realize I’m not alone, and I never was. This class is a safe space where I feel free. It makes me feel at home. 

Sometimes my mom asks me if I want to go back to live in Mexico, but my answer is always the same, “no.” It’s not because I don’t miss it, of course I do. But I have everything here now. There are times that make me want to give up everything and go back, but experiencing the different seasonal changes helps me see the beauty of both places. I used to close my eyes everytime I missed home. Local places like Mount Pisgah help make me feel connected again, hiking all the way to the top just so I can hear the birds, the wind, the cars from  far away. That is home. I no longer have to close my eyes.