At Catalyst-Chicago's Classroom Story Slam Friday, I was honored to read one of my student's essays. Carlos Hernandez is a junior who is a humble gentleman, an honor roll student, a part-time dishwasher at an Asian restaurant, and simply a cool fella--who dresses sharp as hell. He is a leader simply because he is himself, and he serves as an example for others.
Hearing the machine as it is sewing a piece of fabric is like hearing my mother’s singing. It's a song that I memorize as I keep hearing it. The garments I put together are a final representation of the idea I had in my head with the exception that now I can wear it. When I put on a dress shirt and my blazer, I have to look sharp. My shirt and blazer feel almost as if they were giving me a hug. The pants drape down to exactly the line of my ankle. My black shoes represent a funeral feel as if they were death's feet, and I had just killed fashion from head to toe--especially with my tapered haircut, my hair swiftly combed to the right.
My passion for fashion grows every time my heart beats. I love looking good and examining different garments. I loved fashion since fourth grade. I remember when I got my first pair of Jordan basketball shoes. My first instinct was to match them with my shirt. I didn't like the way they looked with my jeans because they covered the jump man logo. I wanted people to see the brand of my shoes. After that it mattered how I looked. I never liked my mom dressing me, I felt like if I was her dress up doll. Besides, she dressed me so simple. She forced me into wearing my grandma's knitted sweaters: the kind that itch all over the body like if I had ants crawling on me.
Despite my passion for fashion, I figured that I didn't have anyone to communicate with. Everything I had to say was bottled up inside of me. My ideas are going nowhere, I’d tell myself. When I tried to express myself with peers, the conversation did not catch their attention. It was like I was talking Chinese to them. Most of the time I felt like talking to myself. That was the way I thought would be most comforting. I found it funny, but sometimes I deluded and mislead my mind into thinking that fashion wasn't important. I was totally amiss.
My passion mattered because that made who I am today and lying to myself would be a stupidity. I would lose the value of life and just fall into the hole that everyone seems to fall into in high school. When I found out that my family was not accepting who I was, it just pushed myself to going above my expectations.
Growing up in a family where viewpoints are narrow and assumptions are made quickly wasn't at all easy to live with—especially, since I was expected to be a man like past generations. I challenged this when I took interest in what my grandma did: sewing.
This caused a conflict because I dress with different style and slimmer fit than most of my family who wear over-sized clothes and conserve a closed minded fashion sense. This led some of my paternalistic family to believe I was less of a man than others only because of my interest in sewing and the way I dressed. No matter what, I tried not to break psychologically and emotionally, but it wasn't working. During my freshman year, the words “fag” and “maricon” just circled around my head. Even if my uncles and cousins were playing, their words still pierced me.
Having my mother, father, and grandmother stand up for me was significant. Their support was like a big sewing machine. At some point I felt like a pair of denim jeans that has been distressed over the wear and tear and finally rips once it’s had enough. Being that pair of jeans, I had the support from my mother, father, and grandmother; therefore, they helped me stitch myself back up.
Over time, I learned how to hide the seams by covering them with the happiness and pride that was missing. I knew that my parents were supportive of my fashion as they are of my academics, since they always brag about my good grades.
Surprisingly, at a party my parents forced me to go to after my seventeenth birthday, I didn't care what people thought of me anymore— especially, my uncles and cousins. As I ironed my dress pants and shirt, my mom told me that I was making the right decision by going and facing what was giving me a hard time.
As I walked in there with a white shirt, purple tie, and slim navy blue pants, I already felt the eyeballs of people just staring at me. It was logical since I was the only man without cowboy boots, jeans, a shirt with an animals on it, and a sombrero.
It first started with my aunts and girl cousins as they said that I looked like an actor from TV. They also wished that more men would dress like me. Finally, my cousins told me that I looked good and asked me questions about what stores I shopped at.
As I made way towards my uncles, I stretched my hand and gave them a firm handshake. They said that every time they saw me I looked older and handsome. I responded by saying “So I’m not a less of a man after all."
And they replied, “No, Carlos, you’re not. You’re a man who is going to be successful—unlike us.”
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