Reprinted with permission from College Summit.
This essay was written by a former ELL student during her participation in programs offered by College Summit, an organization dedicated to strengthening a college-going culture for all students, and for supporting low-income students' college application process. The author describes her experiences as a young girl having to care for her younger brother each day while her mother worked in the afternoon, and remembers an incident that nearly broke apart her family. She observes that she was looking up words in a dictionary and otherwise perfecting her English while other 8-year-olds rode their bikes and went to the park. "I felt I was an adult before I was a kid," she writes.
The essay was included in a collection of essays celebrating the organization's tenth anniversary, In Their Words.
My brother Sali and I are in the living room watching Barney and Sesame Street. There is loud banging at the door. I hesitate to open it; my mother always told me not to open the door for anyone. But the knock becomes louder and a woman calls out: "Open the door." Terrified, I obey. As I slowly open the door I see a blond haired, skinny woman. She is dressed in a navy blue uniform. On the far left side of her chest she wears a sophisticated gold and silver pin. On the far right side of her chest she has a nametag that says, Officer Terry. Her eyes are ice blue and her hair braided in under her police hat. "Are you alone?" she demands.
I am an Albanian-American. My family and I came to the United States 10 years ago to have a better life. I did everything I could to fit in the American culture. Each night the first year in America, I sat with my mom until twelve o'clock at night learning how to read English. I first wrote down every word I did not know and early looked it up in the dictionary. Then I memorized each word and went back to translating the story in Albanian in order for me to comprehend it. I felt like I was an adult before a kid. I never had a break to go to the park or ride bikes like normal eight year olds. I had to perfect my English in order to fit in. Little did I realize wit would be in this new culture that I would almost lose everything that made me who I am — my family.
"How old are you," Officer Terry questions. I want to lie to her and tell her that I am twelve, but I can't. I tell her that I am eight. She looks around and sees my brother cross-legged in front of the T.V. and asks how old he is. Again I want to lie, but I can't so I tell her he is two. In a frigid, solid voice, she ways, "You're both coming with me." Her cold, strong hand grasps my wrist, and I feel her forcing me out of my house with my brother. Enraged, I pull back from her. We are in a tug of war. I am fighting a battle for my family.
Every day starting from when I was eight years old, my mom left me to take care of my brother alone in the house. My mom did not want to work. She felt uncomfortable leaving my brother and me alone for two hours a day, but she had no choice. People might say, "Big deal. It's only two hours." But to me it felt like 200 hours. Again, I was only eight and had to care of my younger brother. I did not know what to do most of the time. I needed an adult to figure to protect me, take care of me, and let me be a child once in awhile.
I know that I am losing this horrendous battle as the officer pulls me towards the car. I am drowning in my tears and choking on my breath. People on the street curiously crawl around me like black cockroaches. Their inquisitive eyes burn my flesh with embarrassment and failure. I am looking for just one face — one face that will tell me everything will be alright.
All of a sudden my mom walks up. There are no words to express how relieved I am to see her. My eyes light up and I run into her arms. At that moment I feel like no one can hurt me or touch me. All the pain and anxiety stored inside of me is released. I touch her soft, white skin and smell her brown hair. When she lets go she has a painful look in her eyes that shifts to heartbreak. She feels like the enemy threatened our army of four. The first shot was fired and two soldiers are wounded.
My parents work indefatigably everyday and night trying to better our lives. The reason they came to America in the first place was to see my brother and me succeed. Sadly, it was in America that we almost lost each other. Ever since that terrible day when Sali and I were almost separated from our parents, I have vowed to apply myself entirely at every opportunity that comes my way. My driving force for success is the love I carry for my family. I will always strive to fulfill my parents' dream.