Dear Billy T and Somerville/Medford News Weekly Speakup Line,
I Am the Director of My Own Story
By: Janice Perez-Gomez, Somerville
I grew up in a physically and psychologically abusive home where I was told that I was useless and wouldn’t amount to anything. In addition to enduring physical abuse, my family tried to stop me from achieving my dreams of going to college; so, when I turned 18, I left.
I went to live at Somerville Village, a program of The Home for Little Wanderers, which helps youth like myself who don’t have family to support them accomplish their goals. They took me under their wing when I had nowhere to turn, they treated me like someone who deserved to be believed in, and they taught me that I can do anything.
I’ve always believed the passport to life is an education, so I knew I wanted to finish high school and go to college. Other than that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Growing up, I didn’t know I would ever have options. Now, the whole world is available to me.
I love cooking, so when I graduated from high school, Maggie, my life coach at Somerville Village, helped me pursue a culinary certificate. When I thought about going to community college, Maggie pushed me to aim higher, so I worked to secure scholarships so that I could earn a degree in business. Now I am enrolled in a 4-year degree program at Suffolk University where I am a National Honor Society student, and I even studied abroad in Spain where I got to learn about a culture I have now come to love. What I’ve learned more than anything is that you need people in your life who support your goals and your dreams, who motivate you and help you move forward.
When I told Maggie I had grown up watching the Miss Universe pageant and always dreamed of being on that stage, Maggie responded: “what’s stopping you?” Nothing, I realized, but also, everything. I grew up thinking I was nothing, that’s hard to just turn off. But at every turn, Maggie supported me. She connected me to a volunteer at The Home named Claudia who helped me learn how to enroll in the pageant, build a business plan, seek donations, and practice answering stage questions.
I was so nervous the day of the pageant. I had spent hours preparing for the questions I would be asked and, when it was my turn, they asked me where I was from. “I’m Latina,” I said with pride. I was surprised because in my essay, I talked about the abuse I experienced, but people don’t know how to respond to the label of “abused”. When they asked me why I entered the pageant, I told them I don’t have a mother or father, so I had to graduate on my own, that I went into medical interpreting on my own, that I got my culinary certificate on my own, that I am going to college on my own. I entered the pageant because I want to be open about my life experiences and inspire other young women to know that they can also achieve anything they set their mind to. I saw this as a platform to be a role model.
I didn’t win, but I’d do it again. I’m inspired by the women who have come before me, who have found their passion and shared their story. I don’t want “abused” to be my label. That’s part of my past, but it’s not my whole story.
I am a cook. I am a student. I am a Latina woman. I am a medical interpreter. I am a world traveler. I am a pageant queen. I am a survivor of abuse. You can’t label me. I am the director of my own story.
Alicia Curran Communications