Painting Through My Writing

By Karla C. Rodriguez Huerta

I am an immigrant – the kind you hear about in the news. Families cross the U.S border and some make it, others get caught doing this and they get deported back or separated and pray that one day they will be reunited. I’ve been here for 22 years, and things have changed for me, but I’ll tell you it hasn’t been an easy ride and I am still trying to grow. My parents migrated to the U.S from Mexico when I was three years old along with my older brother and other family members. I didn’t know what was going on at that age nor did I understand. We arrived at an aunt’s apartment where we were going to live with for a while. Now, imagine four families in a three-bedroom apartment. That’s where we lived with my aunts, uncles, and my cousins.  It was very crowded, but we knew that everyone in that apartment were the only people who we could count on. I remember my parents sitting my older brother and I down to have a talk and explain to us that we could not say anything to anyone about where we came from, especially about how we got here. As they explained all I could picture was an alien in a movie arriving in an unwanted planet where it must blend in so that no one would find out what it was. My parents said, “if the bad guys ever found out what we did we would all be separated and taken.” Now picture this in a three-year-old mind, I became scared of a monster who to me had no face but could be anyone I didn’t know. 

I started elementary school when I was four and all my classes were in Spanish until I reached the second grade when I was put in all English classes. Everyday going to school, I always told myself “Lay low and do not talk to anyone you don’t know.” I ended up struggling academically because I never spoke up when I didn’t understand something, all because I was always afraid that if I spoke up everyone would know the family secret and the monster would come and get us. It got to the point where going to school would just make me anxious and I just wanted the day to go by fast so I could go home and breathe. The only days when my anxiety eased up was when I had art class. I fell in love with art class it was the only class where I didn’t have to say anything but listen and create. Now when I say listen, I don’t just mean what the instructions were, no, to me it was about listening to my thoughts and connect with my feeling so that I could let the brush do the talking.  

I remember an assignment we had to do. My art teacher was teaching us about Vincent Van Gogh and our assignment was to try and recreate a painting of his. I chose The Bedroom, it was an assignment that I had put so much effort into drawing and coloring every single detail that I saw. It made me feel like I could really understand something. I remember after handing it in the next day it was up at the window the classroom had for displaying work, it was right outside our classroom door. For the first time ever was something I did displayed, something I did. I was able to talk and express myself silently with no words but with different colors and techniques. I was able to let go of my feelings, feelings that my own parents didn’t know about because I didn’t want to bother them because I knew they had other things to do. My parents had a lot to take care of, between my older brother and I. We also had a new baby brother we had to look out for. 

This was the only class I could get an A in but when parent teacher conferences came around, I knew by the look and expression on my mom’s face that it wasn’t impressive nor nothing worth celebrating. So, every time my mom would come to my parent and teacher conferences my teachers would always say the same thing, “Karla needs help in her classes, and she is in the low reading percentile.” I was always disappointed that I wasn’t good enough for my parents to be proud. I would see other kids leaving and their parents saying, “good job,” but not me. I knew things were different. I hated these days because these days I saw an extra disappointed look on my parent’s face.  

I grew up disappointed in myself because I let my fears and the anger dictate my life and my choices. It made me not care about school because I knew one day I would not go to college. I stayed at my elementary school until I was in fourth grade then we moved and then from there when I was in sixth grade we moved again.  Throughout all the moves and different schools, my academic work stayed the same. I struggled and the only place I felt like a belonged were my art classes, but by this point without noticing I had just given up on my schoolwork. The days had slowly gone by with me doing the same thing and not asking for help or questions, it had just become my normality. I ended up not caring and thinking that I just wasn’t good enough. 

I started to speak up a more when I was in my teens. With my hormones, things bottled up inside me, and the things happening around me. I guess I just had enough. My older brother started to hang around the wrong crowd, he was doing things that I always told myself I will never do. He started to attract negative attention that would target my family. This was around the same time when DACA had just been passed and my parents were starting the process of helping me applying for it. My parents were also working on fixing their immigration status in the country. During this my brother and his bad decision drew the last straw and he was arrested. We did not know until he called my mother’s phone and asked to speak with me. He told me “Tell mom and dad that I got arrested and they are not letting me go, I have to go to court tomorrow. They have to go to court tomorrow.” My mom was sitting on my bed with me, and I told her what my brother said. I noticed her expressions and she was in shock, became anxious, and confused. I on the other hand felt no emotion but I told him so. My parents were furious. My father blaming my mother and my mother and father blaming me. Even though I didn’t notice it during that time I look back at it and it was because of my brother that I took my first step into sticking up for myself, my consequence to that was I believed for years that my feelings towards anything were not valid, but for once I had something right and it was to stay low and not draw attention to myself. 

After high school I went on my own. I ended up working at different jobs. I worked in retail to ending up at a company that made cosmetic make-up displays for a lot of the big cosmetic companies. I worked a lot of hours, but I wasn’t happy. While working here I was also taking a course to be a phlebotomist. Phlebotomy was a new discovered art for me. You need to know how a vein feels and the direction of the vein so that you can insert the needle. While working full time and going to my classes, in between all this mess I met my fiancé, Geoffrey. We spent every day together and days became weeks, weeks became months and not long after we were expecting. This was hard at first. We were happy, me more than him, but it was hard. When I got pregnant something also happened in me. My motherly instinct kicked in and I started to replay events in my head and understood things in a different way. I was able to understand things through a parent’s perspective. I tried to see things through my parents’ eyes and put myself in their shoes. My parents have tried their best to give us everything. Now I saw that it was my turn. I wanted to give my daughter Violet everything I didn’t have and give her the opportunity to do anything she wants in life.  

A person who really has pushed me to open up has been Grandma Betty. Grandma Betty is Geoffrey’s grandmother. Geoffrey’s family has been nothing but welcoming and loving since the first day I met them. Oh! Grandma Betty sure has the strongest personality I have ever seen. She’s average height with short white hair and enjoys life to the fullest. Alongside Papa George and their very energetic Cocker spaniel Mac. I have grown a lot through the years that I have known her. I never have really known what she sees in me, but she keeps me motivated and has always helped me achieve my goals. She constantly reminds me that giving up is never an option and that there’s a whole new world to explore at the end of the tunnel.  

I enjoy helping people and I made the impossible decision. A decision that throughout my whole life I told myself that I would never do. But now something in me is telling me I must do, in order to grow and show myself that I am the dictator of my life, not my thoughts, and the monster that I had once feared disappeared completely from my life. I made the decision to go to college to be a nurse and I remember when I filled my application. I had an hour before I had to drop off Violet at Geoff’s mom house so that I could go to work right after. I was in my room while Violet was on the couch drinking her milk and watching Toy Story. I had wet hair from the shower I took and could feel the water drops wet the bottom of the back of my shirt. I sat down at the edge of my bed and felt the warm sun coming in from the windows. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could smell the greenery and dirt from the all the indoor plants in the room. I felt anxious, I could feel my heartbeat getting faster, but I knew that I had to fill out my application for college. I felt scared. I know school is a good thing now to further my opportunities of my dream job, but I couldn’t help it but feel scared and anxious. As tears fell from my eyes, I played back memories in my head of all the times my teachers said, ” She needs help, she is not doing so well.” I was never good at school growing up and I am scared to disappoint all the people rooting for me, but I realized that most importantly, I fear of disappointing myself. I was making the one decision I always told myself I wouldn’t, but I see why now I need to face this fear. I grabbed the laptop, opened it and typed in Capital Community College, enroll. I answered all the questions and when I got to the end, I spent the last two minutes finding the courage to hit submit. Violet came in the room, and she saw me crying and said, “Mommy don’t cry, it’s okay” and she hugged me. As she hugged me all that pressure was relieved from my chest, and she made me smile. I finally hit submit and I continued to tell her “Yes, baby everything is going to be okay.”  

English 095, Professor Carey’s class. I was nervous to start this class, even more nervous when our assignment was to create our own narrative. I put my trust in the process and with the help of my tutor Colleen who has helped me tremendously, especially when she said, “Sometimes we should take that little voice in our head and tell her to just go away.” This advice changed everything for me and through the process I have discovered something new. I have discovered a new art, a new art that requires actual words. My free writing, that prepared me for this piece allowed me to let go of a lot of pain I had. To letting go of guilt and anger that I had held inside me. I was able to breathe new fresh air and clear my mind. It has given me a new confidence. For the first time in my life, I can express myself through understanding words. Words that I have held inside me for far too long. I am no longer painting silently now I am painting through my writing. I am still painting my life but if at wasn’t for my brother who pushed my buttons and teaching me to speak up, my daughter coming into this word to help me see the world differently, Grandma Betty pushing me over the ledge and jumping right behind me to keep motivating me, and the love that I found for writing I would have never had the courage to write this. If I was to paint an actual picture, I would paint a caterpillar creating its cocoon to get ready to be concealed in that cocoon to become a beautiful butterfly.   

Course: ENG 095, Spring 2022

Assignment: Literacy Narrative

Instructor: Alexa Carey

Photo Credit: “Motivational Quotes & Lions” by Dimitra Tzanos (Creative Commons)

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