When I don’t know someone, I can come off as calm, cool, and collected. Like I have my shit together. But that’s just my way of protecting myself from the world. On the inside, it’s a different story.
Lately, I’ve been waking up nervous and anxious, usually around six or seven. I like going to bed early and waking up early, having a set schedule. I get out of bed, head to the bathroom, and look at myself in the mirror. I tell myself every morning, in Spanish or English, “Maritza, you are chingona.” Chingona is a Spanish slang word for someone who’s strong, independent, badass, and fearless. I say, “You’re chingona,” over and over. I say, “You can do this. You made it through so many other things, and you can make it through this. You’ve got this, you’ve got so much fight in you. You’ll be okay. Always. There’s so much more out there, waiting for you.”
If that doesn’t work, if I’m feeling really lost or blue, I imagine myself talking to mi abuelo. His death was the first loss I ever experienced. It was completely shocking to see my mother reacting to the news. It was like a movie. Seeing my mom, my best friend, crying, just on her knees crying and saying, “My father, my father.” I think about that a lot. Aging and death. I write about that a lot too. So sometimes when I don’t know what else to do, I speak to him, and I say, “Where are you? Can you hear me? Are you here?”
After mentally preparing myself for the day, I get around, check my email, reply to emails. I try to read daily poems, and then I try to write a little bit, and if not, then I’ll squeeze that in before bed.
I try to live a daily life, take it day by day. I need to have a lot of things done in a day, or else I feel like I’ve wasted it. Because of that, I’m always busy, always driving. Driving to my college classes, driving to club meetings, driving to work, driving to hang out with friends. I don’t think there’s ever time for me to relax or rest.
I had my first panic attack in January of 2017. It was all related to the political climate, the Nebraska winter perhaps, feeling lost and lonely, and not knowing what’s happening, what’s coming next in my life, in the world. It’s taken me months to get over the symptoms, to figure out how to cope. Sometimes I shut down and withdraw. My instinct is to be alone. But I recognize that it’s not beneficial to close myself off from friends and family. People are the most important thing in life.
Now, if I get super nervous, I know to breathe. I know to go for a walk or a bike ride somewhere downtown, or where I can be surrounded by nature. To listen to music. It helps me clear my thoughts, to meditate.
I usually come up with my best writing ideas that way, reflecting on a walk.
Reading and writing poetry saved me. It’s my medicine. There is a lot to be learned about life through poetry. Poems are just brief moments. You’re in the world the poet created on the page for just a brief moment. Just like life. Our lifetime, it’s very short and quick, and you don’t know when you’re going to go, when it’s going to end.
Instead of lamenting that, instead of getting down on those thoughts, I sort of embrace it now, and I tell myself, “Yes, these are brief moments, but there are future brief moments to come.” It helps me pay attention. To stay in the moment. To feel and observe.
Right now in my lifetime, I’ve been living for spontaneous moments and feeling more confident. I’ve been feeling alive from taking small opportunities, small risks. Whether it’s an interview, meeting a new person, or just getting out there and doing something I would never have done. I think there has be a good return from putting yourself out there. There has to be. The world has to give you something if you give something to the world.
I also think I’m becoming bolder, especially when I speak Spanish. I have a slightly different personality when I speak English versus when I speak Spanish. With Spanish, I’m louder. I’m funny and goofy and sassy, sometimes. When I am with my bilingual friends, we speak Spanglish, and I feel so alive. I feel so vivid. I feel whole, like a complete person.
I’m feeling very confident, but I’m also in a state of my lifetime where I’m left wondering, “What am I doing?” This is my last year in college before I graduate, and I don’t know what I’m going to do after, or where. This could be my last year in Omaha. I’m a Midwesterner, but I’m also a Pacific Northwesterner. I was born in Toppenish, Washington. I lived in a little town, Grandview, Washington, until I was four-and-a-half years old. I used to wonder what would have happened if my family had stayed in Washington. But I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I would like to go back and visit soon. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve always wanted to travel alone, and I have a feeling I’m going to do it soon. I need to go the mountains of my home state and the states I haven’t been to before. Especially the Southwest. I feel like it’s calling me.
I think I’m afraid of the future. I mean, who isn’t? We don’t know where we’re going to be 10 years from now, a year from now, five months from now. Tomorrow, even. It’s scary. I remember telling myself at age 10, “Oh, in 10 years, I’ll be 20…” and now I’m 22. It’s so interesting to think, “Okay, little Maritza, I hope I made you proud.” I hope I’m making the future Maritza, the 30-year-old Maritza, proud too.
I’m not just afraid for my own future. The future of humanity, I fear for it a lot. Perhaps there was a time when humanity was doing really well. When we didn’t live with so much uncertainty. But all the knowledge we have now… it’s made us question our existence. I would like to think this world can get better, but currently I’m feeling neutral. I have my days where I think, “Man, will we get through this?” I don’t know.
It’s hard making it in this country. But then you add being young and being Chicana, being part of any minority, and it gets even harder. I think strangers see my brown skin and eyes and dark hair and think of me as just another person of color. But I’m getting near that age where I just don’t care anymore, and I embrace it. If I’m the only person of color in a space, I’m like, “Yo, I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Growing up, I was the only Latina in the classroom. I got more discrimination from the teachers than the students. It would be passive aggressive remarks. They would be surprised if I was writing or if I understood something, or they would go the complete opposite direction and assume I didn’t get something, recommending a specialist. That angered me a lot as a kid. I guess I used that anger as fuel. I studied more. I wrote more. That’s when I started writing actually, in grade school. I had this small diary, and whenever I observed all these things happening in the classroom, I would write it down.
I want to change the way writing is taught in the classroom so it’s more welcoming of diverse voices. I just want other students to know that I’m here for them. As a kid, I never had that. As a college student, I have never had another Chicana professor to tell me, “I know what you mean,” or another teacher of color to tell me, “I know the struggle.”
I will embrace the impact I have on the world, whether it’s a little or a lot. I hope the impact I can make with my poetry as a millennial Chicana writer is giving the people who share the same culture as me something to relate to. I want them to know their experiences are valid. That happened to me two years ago when I read Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. One of my professors recommended it to me, and that same day, I went to the school library to check it out. I remember reading and reading that book in my car, and I started balling because I saw Maritza, I saw my name, in the book. I want to have that impact on another reader.
I’m Maritza Estrada. I am a Chicana, first-generation college student, and I write poetry. I’m bilingual. I am a sister, an aunt, and a daughter who would do anything for her family.
I’m Maritza Estrada, and I’m searching. I’m still searching for home. And I think I’ll find it. I think I’ll find it soon.