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Mom and Dad are never around

1st place $50

By Brian Kan, San Gabriel HS

Illustration by Keanu Lueong, 13,
Toll MS (Glendale)

My sweaty hand slipped off of the ice-cold doorknob as I plopped my backpack on the floor and removed my sneakers. With a sigh, I began my walk up the staircase of the two-story house so devoid of life. After seating myself in my room and turning on my computer, I came across a Post-it note stuck to my monitor. In bold, blue, inky letters, it read: “Don’t turn on your PC. You stayed up until 12 o’clock doing your homework last night. Maybe you would have the time if you stopped coming home so late. —Mom.” I tore the note up and threw it into the wastebasket. “Why do they care?” I thought. “They’re never here anyways.”

Right after high school started, contact between me and my parents nearly came to a standstill. With all their business trips, they employed the neighbors to watch over me and monitor my activity. Of course, the neighbors didn’t do such a great job, as they had kids of their own to worry about. They usually kept track of when I came home just by looking out of their windows. The only means of communication between me and my parents was through Post-it notes. The notes would be stuck around the house all the time, for all occasions, and under any circumstances, from “Take out the garbage when it’s full” even when I didn’t fill it, to “Stop spending so much time after school,” even when they were not there.

Somewhere between spending about eight hours away from home and coming home to find the house completely empty, something didn’t fit. I would come home from school to be welcomed by no one, to talk to no one and be supervised by my neighbors. That’s when I started joining more clubs and staying after school more often, so I didn’t have to feel so lonely. At school, my great friends, the staff members and coaches are there for me. They were all there to give me a hand or talk with me when I wanted to talk. I felt great when I was at school. Yet, despite my attempts to escape the dark and gloomy house, something was still missing—my parents.

I realize that nobody could replace my parents. I wish that they would be there, at home, waiting for me to come back from school. There are too many things my parents don’t understand about me. I want them to understand everything about me. I want them to understand that they’re my parents and I’m their kid and I need them. Ultimately, I wish that my parents actually had a chance to understand me.

Religion separates us

2nd place $30

By B.A., Central L.A. HS for the Visual and Performing Arts

I come from a very strict and religious Christian family. You know, the kind of family that always says grace before a meal, attends church every Sunday, has daily Bible readings, hangs a copy of the Ten Commandments on the living room wall, and so on. Coming from that sort of background I’m usually expected to be very religious. Well, I’m not.

During my pre-teen years I would go to church regularly with my family. Sadly, all those years of church didn’t do much for me. I never felt that “sensation” that the church would always speak about. I just sat there blank and lifeless. I knew I didn’t belong. I tried and tried to force myself to just believe. Oh, how I tried. It didn’t work. I quit going to church and haven’t gone since. My mother was appalled when I announced my decision. It made her absolutely furious.

My mother began to act strange toward me. She knows that I am not a Christian, yet she struggles to accept this fact. “You’re just going through a phase,” she says every now and then. She’s wrong. It’s not just a phase. It’s my choice and lifestyle. Sometimes she goes on about how Christ is going to make me pay for what I did. I’m treated as a criminal when I have not done anything wrong at all!

About a month ago, I had a fever and was so ill that I could barely walk. She called it “God’s wrath.” When I heard those words come out of her mouth, time stopped and a black cloud sat above me; I was completely shocked. I could not believe my own mother would say such a thing.
I am constantly demonized by my mother as well. According to her, I am an “anti-Christ.” I listen to hard rock, like piercings, wear bead and string bracelets, enjoy horror movies, and watch MTV. That’s a Satan worshiper in her eyes. To her, I am an embarrassment. To her, I’m a child gone wrong. To her, I have fallen into Satan’s hands. To her, I’m a failure.

How I wish my mother could just open her eyes and accept who I am. I accept her views and beliefs so why can’t she do the same for her own son. Her religion is getting in the way of our relationship. Why can’t she just put her beliefs aside a bit and try to have a relationship with her own son?

Dad doesn’t get my music

3rd place $20

By Sophia Popovskaia, New Roads HS (Santa Monica)

I have always loved music. More accurately, hip-hop has been the love of my life since I learned that music is not found solely on the radio. I cannot say where this love came from. Maybe from my older sister’s mild interest in it, or the hours we spent watching music videos on BET as we grew up; two little white girls struggling to keep up with the new language. All I know is, by the time I was 10, I went out and bought my first Outkast CD with the words EXPLICT and PARENTAL ADVISORY printed on the cover. I also know that by that time, I had learned not to ask my dad to help me download a song by Snoop Dogg for my new MP3 player. I was only able to hide the CD until I was 11, at which point my dad found it cleverly hidden in my boom box.

“What the heck is this?” he said as if he had just found an AK-47 sitting next to my collection of stuffed animals. “You’ll get it back when you know what good music is.”

My dad has never really understood my taste in music. I wasn’t discouraged by that incident and as I got older my interest in hip-hop continued to grow while my dad’s distaste did too. He believes that I, like some sort of empty-headed parakeet, will start using the words I hear in the songs, and that the people I consider artists are just uneducated losers whose only goal is to degrade women.

He recently gave me back my Outkast CD, but I can never imagine openly listening to my music when he is in hearing range. No matter how old I get, he will always think of me as his little girl and never understand how I can listen to grown men rapping about the streets, throwing cuss words at the authorities and, yes I admit it, sometimes degrading women. I wish I could explain to him that sometimes to really give feeling to a song, strong words have to be used. No, not all music I listen to has a meaningful message. While there are songs I listen to for the lyrics, I also listen to certain songs simply because they make me want to dance my rear off.

I admit, hip-hop is a broad genre, and with all the different rappers, singers and DJs, it can be hard to differentiate “true” hip-hop from rappers like Lil’ Wayne who are famous because they found 28 different ways to name the male groin. But sometimes I’m moved to tears by artists like Immortal Technique who rap about “A generation of babies born without health care/ Families homeless, thrown the f*** off of the welfare.” I felt like I was let into an exclusive world filled with deep interpretations of reality and stark truths. Even when the subject of a song is not so intense, the poetic lyrics combined with exquisite beats can become works of art. My heart melts each time I hear Andre 3000, one of the members of Outkast, rap, “I hope that you’re the one/ If not you are the prototype,” in his smooth airy voice while whimsical beats play in the background. Most of my music is at least a couple years old because, as the rapper Nas said in one of his songs, “Hip-hop is dead.”

Maybe if my dad ever turned on MTV he wouldn’t question my collection of mostly old-school rappers. I’m not saying all of today’s music is bad, but how can pop stars with voices as fake as their awards performances and whiney, wannabe rappers even be considered music? I respect my dad greatly, and value his opinion very much, but I wish he could understand my taste in music because as I listen to it day after day, it becomes more and more integrated into my thoughts, my actions and my view of the world. In fact, I am turning on my recently returned CD as I type these last words: Long live Outkast.

Don’t compare me to the other teens

Honorable  mention

Author’s name withheld

It feels like every time my mother and I start to have a casual conversation, it turns into a full-blown argument. We could be talking about something as simple as dinner plans and suddenly, my mother will make a snide remark pushing the harmless conversation into World War III. She’ll talk about my lack of a bright future because I don’t plan to be a doctor, nurse or any profession involving the healthcare field. And much to her disappointment, I don’t want to be an engineer, architect or any job involving the science field either. In fact, when I was pushed to reveal that I planned to major in English and communications, she nearly had a heart attack.

“Why can’t you be like my co-worker’s son?” She’ll bemoan all the time. Her co-worker’s son received a four-year scholarship to USC and is now earning 70 grand a year as an environmental engineer. I don’t know what to answer except that I simply can’t be like Mr. Perfect as I’ve dubbed the unnamed co-worker’s son.  “I can’t be like him,” I’ve told her countless times.

“Then be more like him because the person you are now isn’t good enough,” is her answer. It hurts that she can’t accept the person I am. I’ll never be the type of person who is valedictorian, student council president or even a National Merit Scholar. I’m the type of person who loves to help out in the community, write until the sun goes down, and most of all, wants to pursue a career because I love it, not because of prestige or salary.

I understand why my mother is freaking out so much about my future majors. I’ve seen my mother struggle to raise me on her miniscule salary and long hours. She leaves the house around 6:30 a.m. and usually comes home around 5 or sometimes even 6 p.m. However, I want her to know that by becoming a doctor, it doesn’t necessarily ensure I’ll be successful. It doesn’t mean that I’ll have a fairytale life without suffering all the hardships that life throws at us. My mother can call me foolish, but the fact is, I’d rather follow my dreams and create my own future.

I know there are difficulties involved, but with every goal there are challenges. It’s hard for her to understand but she has taken risks too. One of the biggest risks she took was immigrating to America with me. She didn’t know what could happen or even if she could succeed, but she did succeed and that is the most important part. Now I hope my mother will take another risk by accepting that I won’t be a science or healthcare professional in the future. I’ll simply be me.

Please accept my boyfriend

Honorable mention

By Claudia Kelly, Birmingham HS

If I hear the words “You have to leave him” one more time, I’m going to scream. My parents and I don’t get along. My parents don’t understand me at all. They don’t understand why I like to go to parties and sleep in on weekends. They don’t understand why I like to listen to music really loud. However, what I really want my parents to understand is why I am still in a relationship with my boyfriend.

I know I’m young and I’m sure I don’t know what love is, but I do know I like my boyfriend. We started dating a year ago on my 15th birthday. Since that day my parents have been telling me to dump him. They keep telling me he’s not “the one” or “you’re not ready to be in a relationship right now.” My parents are just looking at the outside of him. They just don’t understand.

My boyfriend, Marcus, is a good guy. He doesn’t smoke or drink or do anything harmful or put me in harm. In fact he encourages me to do well in school. My parents don’t understand that. What they see is a 6-foot-3 white male who has tattoos. They see a young man who’s going to school because “he has to.” However, he has a job, he’s in school and he’s graduating with his class.

My parents say I changed ever since we started dating. They say I used to be a sweet, smart, playful, outgoing teen and then changed to a moody, loud, angry, shy young adult. (lol) Not!!! I’m still me; I’m still sweet and nice. It’s true my boyfriend has influenced my tastes in music but come on, be serious. After dating someone for a year do you really think I’m going to change?

OK. Marcus is not the perfect boyfriend. We argue and we don’t always get along. What I’m trying to say is my mom wasn’t the best catch and my dad wasn’t Mr. Perfect. So don’t trip Mom and Dad. Your little girl isn’t saying she’s in love. What I’m saying is Marcus isn’t Mr. Right but he’s Mr. Right Now.

Please Mom and Dad, try to understand he’s not a bad guy. He’s nice and he’s my boyfriend.

Next essay contest—Should the census ask about race?

In this issue, Ernesto writes about the U.S. Census, which will take place this spring to count everyone living in the country. One of the questions on the census form asks people their race. When we brought this up at a staff meeting, some said they didn’t see themselves represented in the choices listed on the form. Others didn’t think it should be asked. Do you think the government should keep track of what race we are? Some people feel it’s a waste of time because many of us are multiethnic. But others say it’s important to know who’s living in the United States and how the country has changed over time. What do you think? What experiences have you had that make you think that way?

Write and essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it:
Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and phone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our March-April issue and put on

Mail your essays to:
L.A. Youth Essay Contest
5967 W. 3rd St.
Suite 301
Los Angeles, CA 90036

DEADLINE: Friday, Feb. 19, 2010