In for the Fight

The third in our series of college essays by the Class of 2021, this essay by Cecilia Cortez calls attention to the cause of justice for immigrants and reveals the writer’s personal connection to the issue. This fall, Cecilia, who is graduating from Phoenix STEM Military Academy, plans to attend St. Olaf College and is exploring careers including design and medicine. Congratulations, Cecilia!

Did you know monarch butterflies migrate about 3,000 miles every year to escape the winter? They do so to find a safe place where they won't be affected by the weather. People all over the world do the same; they migrate to find a better place.

I remember being in fourth grade when I attended my first protest. It was a children's protest that advocated for immigration reform. The day before, my family and I created big butterfly shaped posters with our names on it. We were going to march downtown and that made me excited. The only thing I knew at the time was that this protest was for people like my dad.

The next day, we arrived at the location where everyone was planning to meet. I saw girls my age or younger with colorful butterfly posters. When we found the organizer, she told me that she was going to hold the banner and march. We started marching and chanting “Kirk, Escucha, Estamos en la Lucha!” which translates to, “Kirk, listen, we are in for the fight!” I felt overwhelmed with the adrenaline that pumped through me. We reached Federal Plaza and that's when I realized what was happening. Children of immigrant parents were sharing stories about how their families were separated. I saw tears rolling down people’s cheeks and heard shouting from every direction.

As I heard stories from kids my age, I couldn't help but ask myself, "What is my story?” That excitement turned into fear and worry.

This was the day that I learned that it's okay to be scared because that means you have something to lose. One day I came home and instead of playing with my favorite dolls like I used to, I sat down to watch the news. I started questioning what was going on around me.

I stopped being that clueless 10-year-old who had no idea what the world was like. It seemed as if my eyes opened up for the first time. I became more motivated to learn about topics like the march and promised myself to always keep up with events that happen in my community. The fact that I was exposed to this event at a young age allowed me to express my opinions without feeling scared.

I have family members who always had something to say about situations around the world. I am now the person who can help positively change their mind. We always hear the phrase “If you don't defend yourself, then no one will,” but that isn't true. That day I saw so many different people come together to fight for others who can't fight for themselves.

The fear I felt that day is still inside me. I'm scared one day I will come home and not see my dad. The fear of losing him motivates me to be successful so that one day I can help him. I may not attend every protest, but I always make sure I do my part. Social media is a tool I now use to engage with people to bring more attention to the problem, which starts important conversations.

As a fourth grader, I didn't understand why butterflies were used for the march. Looking back now, I realize it was a symbol that represented my people and their struggles. Monarch butterflies migrate so that they can survive, just like us. I see how events like these still take place today.

This year I have seen injustices brought to light. I have witnessed people coming out and fighting for what they believe in, even kids who might not know what everything means quite yet. I know that in the future there will be children just like me who will grow up to fight for a better future. This gives me hope and motivates me to keep fighting.