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I’m into music, not gangs
1st place $50

By Luis Guzman, Gardena HS

A couple of tattoos is all it took. Tattoos and two seconds.

You decide to make your own stories about me—a life I never had—but a good enough story for you to keep me out of your children’s lives, good enough to keep an eye on me while I shop. To you I am just another brown Latino who is in a gang, does drugs, never goes to school and has a pregnant girlfriend. You already set a lifestyle for me, probably with drugs and shootings and maybe divorced parents. You don’t know me.

I am the brown Latino who got accepted into numerous colleges, colleges that are good enough for any kids who go to Malibu High or Poly High. I am the brown Latino who plays in a band, a band that is drug-free and alcohol-free, a band that’s well recognized and that is loved. I am the brown Latino with tattoos on me, each one with meaning and a story, a story that does not involve a cousin or brother who got shot in gang-related terms. Behind the stars inked on my chest, and the doves that will always fly on me, there are stories of good times and music and a fallen friend in a car accident. I am the brown Latino who said "no" to drugs over and over.

I am the brown Latino with pride, self-dignity. The same brown Latino who walks into your favorite store, the one who wears the same clothes brand as you and eats at the same restaurants good enough to feed kings. I am the same Latino who comes from a family of former teachers, mechanics and no prison inmates. But you don’t know that, you don’t know me. You just see a Latino who will cut your grass.

I am the proud Latino who stands in front of you every day. The Latino you judge, just like you judge everyone else. I am the Latino who in the future, along with my friends, will be teaching your children, taking care of your health problems and protecting your streets. You see us as thugs and low lifes, but you don’t know us, what I am. So question yourself, who are you? And what do you stand for? I am the brown Latino with the tattoos on me that cover my chest like body armor, the kid with 1-inch plugs in my ears, the anti-drug kid who says "no" every day. I am Luis Guzman.

Baggy pants, but still a good person

2nd place $30

By Gerardo Jarquin, Belmont HS (Los Angeles)

I am standing on the street wearing baggy pants and a white T-shirt. What would you say? Do not tell me. I know that your first impression will be that I am a gang member. I understand why you think that way. But why do you judge me without really knowing me? Do you feel you have the right to do that? Be a little more receptive with me and you might be surprised when you get to know the real me.

People have judged me many times. I remember the time when I went to apply for a job. As I entered the store, I handed the application to the manager. The manager took a good look at me and said that he was very sorry, but there were no jobs available. Two days later, I went back to the store only to notice that one of my friends was working there. Obviously, if you see my friend, you will notice that he dresses differently. He dresses in a way people consider normal. No baggy pants or anything like that. At that moment I felt that the manager did not give me the job because he judged me by the way I looked and dressed.

Another experience that I remember happened in school. After two months of vacation, I went back to school to begin a new semester. This was an opportunity to meet new friends and new teachers. In my Spanish class, we introduced ourselves to each other, but something interesting took place. When I introduced myself to the class and the teacher heard my last name, she asked me if I had a brother named Jose. When I said yes, she could not believe her eyes. My bald head, baggy pants and white T-shirt made me look far different from the way my brother Jose used to dress 10 years before in high school. I do not know what my teacher was thinking, but I imagined. Later, she told me that the first thing that came to her mind was, "This student is going to be a problem." After the first report card, my teacher told me that she was very happy with me for being a hard worker. She also told me that she was wrong about the way she judged me the first day of school. For me this was an emotional moment because she recognized that appearances deceive people. I believe that I am a good person and a good student.

This is an experience that many people go through, and the sad part is that when people judge you, an opportunity to discover a unique person is wasted. For example, I love to play the guitar and that is one of my best skills, but people cannot see this by just judging the way I dress. People need to spend some time talking to me and getting to know me before coming to a conclusion about me. It is important to know that every person is very unique and that he or she has something positive to give. In conclusion, before you judge somebody, give that person an opportunity to show you who he or she really is. You will be very happy to know that you opened your heart to a new friend. Sometimes you just need to listen to that person and show some concern. I am sure everybody has a story to tell.

Fat or thin, I’m judged for my weight

3rd place $20

By Nicole Williams, City of Angels

When I was younger I weighed as much as I do now, but I was 5 inches shorter. I knew that I was considered overweight, and people would look at me as being fat. So I wore baggy pants and big T-shirts that I thought would hide the way I looked. But it didn’t work. People always asked me why I dressed like that and tried to make fun of me in a playful manner. At the time these comments didn’t hurt my feelings, but when I got home and tried to go to sleep at night, I would cry. Sometimes I even got up from the bed and looked at myself in the mirror, which just made me feel worse.

When I hit middle school, I didn’t even want to be in any of the programs or plays because I thought I was just too fat and everyone would make fun of me. I had friends, but I wasn’t like most of the girls my age who were starting to try to get boyfriends or anything like that. I stayed basically to myself and didn’t talk much. Eventually, my weight really got to me. My mom and her boyfriend were always telling me what to eat and what not to eat, and I felt like I wanted to scream. I knew what my problem was and I just wanted everyone to leave me alone and let me handle it for myself.

When I got to the eighth grade, I was so fed up with not feeling comfortable with myself or my body that I sat down one day and just really thought about what I could do to change my life. My mom and brother had just started going to the gym and had tried to pump me up about it a couple times before, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to exercise in front of people I didn’t even know. But that was the day I told myself I didn’t care what anyone thought, I had to lose some weight. So, I cleared my mind and set off for the gym with my family the next night.

When we got there, no one looked at me the way I thought they would, and no one cared about how I looked. They were all there just trying to make themselves look better. After about a week of going to the gym, I started to feel a change in myself. Not just a physical change, but also a mental and emotional change. I felt like being around people more and I was not quite so insecure. After another month of this I was feeling like I could fly. I never felt so pretty or so happy in my life. It was just like being a little kid again.

I noticed that people started to look at me more, and smile at me more. I would smile back and knew exactly what was bringing on all the new changes. I had lost about 20-25 pounds and nothing could stop me from being happy at that point. But this too eventually started to fade. I started to try to not eat at all sometimes because I was so afraid I would become fat again. Now I wasn’t just happy being a normal weight, I wanted to be perfect. I couldn’t stand to eat dinner if I had eaten something like candy earlier in the day. It started to get ridiculous.

All my friends started to notice that I was becoming obsessed with the way I looked and told me how much it was bothering them. So with all their help, I found a way to balance my feelings and stay healthy, without trying to punish myself for not being perfect. But it’s like now people have found totally different reasons to judge me.

People often think that I’m conceited when they first meet me, and think that just because I’m at a good weight that I didn’t have to work hard for what I’ve got. They probably think that I don’t know how it feels to be fat or overweight, but I do. My weight still goes up and down, but I just learned that you can lose it again with just a little bit of effort. Some people even think that I am a stuck-up person because they see a lot of boys talking to me, but that’s not how I am at all. For years boys didn’t even notice that I was alive.

But all these experiences have helped me in becoming the person that I am. If I was never fat then I wouldn’t know how it feels to be overweight. If I had never lost the weight then I would never know how it feels to be judged just because they think you’ve looked like this your whole life. So I’m grateful for all my experiences I’ve had, and when I see someone that looks like they’re not happy with themselves, I go over to them and try to make them laugh, or at least smile. I know how it feels to worry about whether or not people will accept you. So before you get a chance to judge me, hear my story.