Different Americas

Stubby fingers clumsily fiddled with the top button of a navy-blue Oxford shirt. Once this ­formidable task was accomplished, I grabbed my Spider-Man book bag and left my room. Following my daily routine, I headed toward the front door only to have my father’s stern voice call me into the kitchen. Recognizing his sense of urgency, I quickly looked in the mirror to avoid potential trouble. However, despite my untucked shirt tail, the trouble ranged far beyond the safe walls of my home.

Hot bullets of an assault rifle had shattered my daily routine. The gang violence that infested my city had claimed another friend, my long-time teacher, Mr. Salinas. Homicide, even as a child, plagued my life as a inevitable fate for random members of my community.

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Free time allowed me to enjoy my favorite pastime, roller blading! The 10 by 8 foot charcoal-gray slab in my backyard became my sanctuary in the midst of the violence.

Its pleasures were all I knew when it came to skating. This coddled reality was as real to me as the shadows were to the chained-men in Plato’s Cave allegory: the limited freedom of my childhood was all I thought existed.

The ninety-seven percent Hispanic population in my middle and high school provided a buffet of potential gang members for the cartels. The juvenile gang violence, in Laredo, Texas, transcends even the most ­astonishing national ­averages. Unfortunately, for those entering the South Texas schools, the options are to conform or face physical abuse. Confronted with these options, my family made the fiscally daunting decision to enroll me in a private school in Virginia.

My move to the East Coast transformed America into the beautiful and free country I heard about during late-night news broadcasts. This calm ­allowed me to go out in public without fear and eventually I stumbled upon a local roller rink in town. As I entered, a comfortable milieu and racks of glistening roller blades filled me with an electric energy that I had not felt since the slab back home in Texas. Excited to experience the rink, I laced my skates and took to the glossy floor. The expansive rink filled me with a sense of liberation and freedom, so foreign to me.

Catching sight of a television caused my skates to squeak furiously to a halt. I stared off at the television in a foggy daze as fellow roller bladers flew past. Rentals and refreshments continued to be sold as I witnessed the police reports of a homicide about a quarter of a mile from my former elementary school.

Distance cannot quell the horrific memories of the cruelty taking place on the border. New schools and faces cannot change the experiences that form my identity. The placid life experienced in Virginia will not change the tyranny of the cartels these families live under. Where I skate does not change where my wheels have been.

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