Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Winner of Conexion Americas' inaugural young writer essay contest: Dulce Torres

"Dreams of Home in Both Places"

Renata Soto comments on "disappointing truth" revealed in top essay

Conexión Américas announced that Nashville student Dulce Torres has won that organization's inaugural essay contest for young Latino writers.

With the theme "My Hispanic Roots, My American Dream," the contest was one of several activities to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and was geared toward Latino high school students who live in Middle Tennessee.

Ms. Torres will receive a personal computer and a $100 savings bond. The runner-up finalists, Alejandra Mata and Lupita Garcia, will also be recognized with gift certificates.

The Tennessean published photos of the winners and all three essays here.

The full text of Torres' winning essay, "Dreams of Home in Both Places," is below, followed by a Q&A with Conexion Americas' executive director Renata Soto about the following comment in Torres' essay: "I know I have different goals from other Hispanics, like finishing high school and going to college..."

Dreams of Home in Both Places

By Dulce Torres

My name is Dulce Torres, but what many people don’t know is that my full name is Dulce Maria Torres Guzman. I come from a family of seven, and I am the oldest so I usually have to deal with four screaming “bundles of joy.”

Most of my brothers and sisters were not born in Mexico, but in America. And I guess that has given us a great advantage in helping us live here. But I’ve never forgotten my heritage. It is always with me, everywhere I go. And though I live in America, I’ve never let go of it. My parents have really helped in showing me where I came from. My mother never stopped speaking to me in Spanish when I was little, and she never stopped telling me stories of when she was a little girl in Mexico. She would tell me of simpler times when her ten brothers and sisters and she would play with whatever they could find outside. Imagination was one of the only tools they had back then, but with that, they could create whole worlds out there. Funny, my mother would usually tell me these stories when she would catch me watching TV instead of doing something else.

But people say that others learn things better by doing. So that’s what my parents did. From as far back as I can remember, my parents have taken me every summer to Mexico. I’ll never forget the feeling of knowing that when the final bell of the final day of school rang, that soon I would be in Mexico. When I would get home the frenzy of packing the suitcases (and practically the whole house), cleaning the house, fixing the car, and getting everything else ready would start almost immediately. My mom would get really nervous and angry, and make everyone else nervous and angry. But I didn’t mind this, and I didn’t even mind the three-day-long car rides going to Mexico. It was all worth it in the end. Just the thought of seeing Mexico again would keep us from bothering the living heck out of each other. We couldn’t make much noise or our daddy “might crash.” I believed him; he had done it before. On the third day, we were all exhausted but we knew that soon, we would be home.

And suddenly, stores would start to appear. Neverias, tortillerias, carnicerias, and then La Plaza, and then I knew: I was home. Screams were heard everywhere once we got out of the car. A blur of people came and started to hug my family and me. And then a short time passed before I could finally get inside the old, yellow house to see the wrinkled, gentle, and happy faces of two of the people I love the most. “Dulce que? Dulce Armargosa!” was always my grandfather’s favorite thing to say to me. He was the jokester in our family, the main line to the laughter that would fill the house once he started talking. “No le hagas caso a tu abuelito,” my grandmother would tell me. She usually disapproved of most of the things that would come out of my abuelito’s mouth because most of it was inappropriate.

Some of my fondest memories are of Mexico. My memories are of things I had been doing since I was little, and I had never gotten bored there. The Mexican food that would appear on my grandmother’s table, the nightly walks to the store to get the delicious candy that could only be found there, the delicious smell of the fresh tortillas as I carry them back to my grandmother were just a few of these memories.

Some of my memories are the ones I really hold close to. As I silently walked and made my way closer to the plaza, I would soon be circled by lights from the rides, the smells from the food, and the words and laughter of almost all the people in Degollado who would come to the exact same place every Sunday.

Maybe that is why I study so hard in school and try so hard to get good grades. I know I have different goals from other Hispanics, like finishing high school and going to college. I want to become a writer. I think I was always meant to be one. And I also want to change a few things. I know not many Mexicans, or Hispanics, like to read books, or even try to write them. But I love it. I love to create stories using only my imagination and I love to write about everything I see. I want to create books so that when people read them, they will be amazed that it was done by a Hispanic woman and then they will know that we can be successful and that we can do good things for this country and this world. I hope to be one of the first to start the path to get other Hispanics to follow, and to see that they don’t have to act that way to fit in. They can do whatever they put their minds to. That is my American Dream.

Q&A about "I know not many Mexicans, or Hispanics, like to read books, or even try to write them."

Before publishing "Dreams of Home in Both Places," I asked Conexion Americas' executive director Renata Soto about the sentence in the essay that says, "not many Mexicans, or Hispanics, like to read books, or even try to write them":
I wanted to ask you a question about the winning essay, especially this portion:
"I know I have different goals from other Hispanics, like finishing high school and going to college..."
If I saw anyone else saying that Hispanics' goals don't include finishing high school and going to college, I'd be shocked. So when the 1st place essay for Hispanic Heritage Month includes that sentiment, I'm dumbfounded.

What are your thoughts?
The disappointing truth is that many of the entries spoke to that issue. It reflects their experience. When for every Latino kid who graduates from high school they see another Latino kid drop out….you cannot dismiss their sense of the reality.

Another one of the students who participated in a video we co-produced about parent involvement in school told me during our interview about how his oldest sisters dropped out of high school and how he wanted a different outcome for him and others.

So while there may be a temptation to dismiss the essay's sentiment, to not 'send the wrong message,' it was an honest reflection from the author about the world around her.

This is an interesting dilemma we face, because we sometimes hear people repeat the myth that latinos don't value education, even though national polls say that latino parents rate education as one of the most important things for their children. So here at Conexion Americas we do talk a lot about correcting that myth. But when 50% or more of Latino kids do drop out, we know that problem is going to take more than appreciation for education from parents…hence our new Parents as Partners program.
Related stories in Education:

Book photo by Gep Pascual. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Boundary line photo by Richard Masoner. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Question mark photo by Leo Reynolds. Licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. I was startled by the young writer's frank admission regarding the lack of ambition among her peers. As an African American entrepreneur and business owner, I admit I did find her observation somewhat "narrow." However, I do appreciate her honest reflections, along with her willingness not "to dismiss the essay's sentiment" in an attempt not to 'send the wrong message,' as the sponsor director commented.

    What a wonderful opportunity this offers Ms. Torres and other academic aspiring minorities to establish organizations such as Conexion Americas! Also, there are likely little or no Young Hispanic (or Latino) Writers Associations. It would be nice if Ms. Torres started one of her own.

    She would likely benefit many a business offering her writing/translation services (I'm sure I could use someone like her in my business).

    Assert Marketing Promotions
    Author of A Compelling Corporate Purpose: Your U.S.P., A Rose Geranium and A Cup of Tea

  2. It is refreshing to see a young Hispanic woman describe her love of literature and her future goals. Please know, dear Dulce, that there are many Hispanics that LOVE to read. You are not alone. Keep working hard in school because an education can never be taken from you and you will meet other Hispanic peers who share your interests. I am a Hispanic grad student in English.


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