The Lifelong Gift
By Maria Osorio
People leave a mark in our lives that will forever stay with us; this essay is a love letter to everyone that has influenced me and put me on the path I am now traveling.
My city, Medellín, is in a valley surrounded by mountains. I grew up in a city, sí, una ciudad, but a city where you are immersed in nature on every street, desde cada rincón. Mountains make me feel at home.
“Hoy vas a mirar pa’ lante, que pa’ atrás ya te dolió bastante,” sings the Spanish artist Bebe, and I think of the American Dream. Or any dream. Dreaming is not only floating and fantasizing; it requires sacrifice and transformation. When I was a kid, the possibility of change made my heart race. It made me unsteady on my own feet. But in the spring of 2011, I had to accept new things when my abuelos left Colombia. Growing up, Abuelo Gonzalo and Abuela Patricia were my heroes. My grandma, also known as Patry, is the type of person who earns your trust quickly and is willing to help anyone selflessly. The entire neighborhood of Alfonso Lopez, Medellín, knew that about her. “Be polite, say good morning and goodbye. Always say thank you. Remember that kindness is the key to everything.” These are some of the things she taught me: showing me the good in others, and by extension, showing the good in me. I like to think my best personality traits come from her. That she has shaped me.
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One afternoon, Patry and Gonzalo asked me to move with them to los Estados Unidos. At that moment it was hard to understand how that decision could impact my life. I wanted to be close to what was familiar to me and stayed in Colombia with my parents and friends. After all, I was only nine.
With them gone, there was a whole new Colombia for me to explore. Video calls were our ritual for the next seven years, hoping that seeing each other once a week on a cell phone would be enough. Although Patry wasn’t with me anymore, I kept honoring everything she taught me. Every December I continued gathering donations for Christmas, which was one of the most important traditions we shared, and now I had to learn to do it alone. The mountains that had always known me found me under a different light. But it was worth it. Gradually, I came to understand that change, no matter how uncomfortable, was inevitable. I had to accept it and welcome it.
I moved to the United States and reunited with my abuelos in 2018. I was sixteen and during the first months in New York I would find myself seeking mountains from my window. Fun fact: They were not out there, and I started to experience the greatest transformations of my life. I don’t know if it has to do with how this transition opened my mind—and heart—or if it has to do with growing up, but I started to care about things that were larger than myself and the valley que tanto extrañaba. Issues like intersectionality, food justice, global warming, and civic engagement started to be important in my conversations. Born and raised in Colombia, I was taught to be proud of living in one of the most biodiverse countries. I traveled and saw all these beautiful landscapes, but I didn’t know all the consequences of the human impact. I started to be aware of people’s actions and how we are destroying our resources. How little by little we are killing our homes, call it Medellín, llámalo New York. In retrospect, I see how my abuelos cleared a path for my future where empathy and kindness are the foundations that influenced me, cultivating this person that I am becoming: a woman who aims to promote meaningful change. After four years of living in Elmhurst, Queens, I still seek the mountains from my window. And I see them. I allow myself to look back and visualize the green fields. It’s like dreaming but backwards, letting myself walk through the valleys that I call home. These glowing hills give me la fuerza pa ir pa’ lante and the courage to dream about where I want to go next, even if that makes my heart beat fast.
This essay started as a completely different writing piece that each month would transform until it expressed everything it was supposed to. I created a first draft after a workshop on environmental memoirs and it focused mainly on my love for nature and environmental justice while using some prompts provided by Barbi, my mentor. We then took a break from the memoir and set goals for this new year. As a pair we saw that it was important to start thinking about college and a personal statement. With the new goals in mind we decided to instead of a memoir make it my personal statement. Through this process my mentors guidance and editing skills allowed me to find the words and connect ideas that at the end gave a nice flow to this piece.
Maria Osorio is a 17-year-old Colombian living in Queens, NY. 2020 is the first year she will publicly share her writing work. Being at Girls Write Now has given her the confidence to work on her own writing and finish projects from poems to memoirs. Her main interests are social and environmental justice. She also likes to read in her free time and to be involved in different activities outside of school that will help her get closer to college.