Richmond Youth Say, ‘Thanks!’

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First Person, Various Authors

Editor’s Note: Each year around this time, we ask young people in Richmond to tell us what they are thankful for. Here’s what they had to say.

Joyful Play

She’s tiny and has the cheesiest smile. Her name is Sirryah, my 3-year-old niece.

Being a high school senior is chaotic. I have college applications due, classes to keep up on and leadership responsibilities. (Not to mention trying to keep myself in a good place mentally and emotionally.) My niece Sirryah helps makes sure I don’t lose it. I always look forward to seeing her.

Every time I walk in, she rushes to the door and screams, “Yay, Tine! Play with me!” That’s all she ever wants to do, play. It’s easy. She’s the one person without expectations for me.

-Justine Chavez, 17

Family Trips

I’m the most thankful for the opportunity to travel with my parents. Because of their legal status we haven’t always been able to travel as a family. When we travel we spend a lot of time together, something we rarely get to do at home because they’re so busy with work.

Seeing my parents’ joy when we visit where they came from is priceless. When my dad first visited where we’re from in Mexico, he hadn’t see my grandma, his mom, for over 15 years. He would always say he’d do anything to get to visit his mom again, and now that he can — he visits every year.

Likewise, my mom would get sad whenever all of her family would visit Mexico. Even though she could have traveled she didn’t because she didn’t want to leave my dad alone.

Finally, we can all travel together.

-Saul Jimenez Mendoza, 18

A Home

I currently live in a motorhome, which is it’s own challenge because it’s a small living space and there are many problems with the house. Sometimes I wish I could live in a big, fancy house but then I think of the people that don’t even have a home.

I think about their struggles and I am really thankful for having a place to call home.

-Uriel Ledesma, 17

Cancer Free

I am most thankful for my mother. She has survived three different types of cancer the last stage of the last cancer she fought they told her she had three months to live.

Hearing that your mom is only going to live for three more months is awful.

I was scared to leave the house each day, worried each time I left that I would never see her again. I love her dearly (even though I put her through a lot). She is a strong lady. Now she’s healthy and cancer free.

Celebrating Thanksgiving is amazing. Just having my mother in the picture completes everything.

-Crystal Louangkhamdeng, 17

Thankful Every Day

Just four years ago I did not have a home. My family broke up because of drugs and I didn’t grow up around much love.

I know what it’s like to come home and there’s no warm meal waiting.

I know what it’s like to arrive home and there’s no family waiting.

Sometimes I go to other people’s homes and notice how they take it all for granted. That’s not how I want to live in my home.

I am thankful for having a home — a place where I can rest, where my family lives and where memories are made. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a home.

People always remember to be thankful for what they on Thanksgiving. We post on social media, giving thanks for people around us.

But being thankful should be every day, not just on a holiday. I know I wasn’t always this lucky.

-Pablo Navarro, 18

Improving Health

I used to take my dad for granted not worrying about the arguments we got into. I figured there would always be another day and everything would end up okay.

Lately I’ve been forced to reconsider this approach. My dad was diagnosed with heart failure over the summer.

Since then, I’ve discovered that most of the things we argued about are just plain stupid. Now, I ask myself, “Is this really worth fighting about?”

Because the next fight we get into could be our last, and it scares me. I don’t want to say something stupid to him like, “I hate you,” and then regret it the rest of my life because those could be my last words to him.

Luckily, he is doing better and I couldn’t be happier, or more thankful.

-Lilibeth Esperanza, 17

Education and Dreams

Waking up everyday in Richmond is a true blessing.

I am thankful for living in a community, surround by people who have big dreams they’re striving to accomplish. Richmond High School has helped me define myself. Stepping into high school I didn’t know what I wanted to with my life. My classes and programs have helped shape me and my future. I used to think college was for rich people. But, school gave me a different perspective – that college is for those who want a higher education and can be achieved through hard work and commitment, not money.

I am thankful for teachers who have pushed me to the best of my ability and have made me realize that I am capable of doing more than I thought.

-Brian Higareda, 17

For God

I am most thankful for God and everything he has done for me in this past year. I’ve learned many valuable things and I’ve grown as a person. I am not only thankful to him, but grateful as well.

My relationship with God has been a bit rocky but I know He has never left my side and even at my lowest points this year, He was there up holding me and opening up incredible opportunities and doors I never imagined.

I am truly blessed and for that I am entirely thankful.

-Nayeli Hernandez, 16

My Father’s Decision

My dad came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 14. He left all his loved ones behind and started over from zero – not even having a place to live – and worked his way to three homes and six daughters.

I am thankful that because of his courage and hard work I have a house to keep me warm and hot food and live a peaceful life without violence. Bringing my family the United States was the best thing my dad could have done and that’s why I am so thankful for him.

-Johana Martinez Salas, 17

The negative experiences

In cliche terms, I’m thankful for breathing, being alive, and all the past experiences that shape me who I am today. I believe when you’re at peace inside it shines on the outside.

But while most people are thankful for all of the positive things that happen in their life, I am also grateful for the negatives. I believe you need to have negative experiences or you won’t ever develop a realistic view of the world and grow.

-Marc Anthony Gomez, 17

Surrounded by Support

There are many people I am thankful for, from family to advisors. The person I am most thankful for is my mom. For the first six years of my life it was just my mom, my sister and me. She worked all the time and if she wasn’t at work she was with my sister and me.

The second person I am most thankful for is my dad, he is my stepfather but I like to call him dad. This man is amazing. He came into our life when I was nearly six and my sister was a toddler. I sometimes forget he not my actual father. I don’t know what I would do without him because he is sometimes the light at the end of my tunnel.

My grandparents, have also done so much for me. My grandpa filled in the male role for the first years of my life. My grandma always made sure we were ok and took care of us when my mom was working. They both supported my mom when she had us.

Aside from family, the other two big influencers in my life who I’m grateful for are Maricela, my advisor for Mills College Upward Bound and my soon to be godmother, Maria Verdin (aka Lola). I’ve only known Maricela a short time but she has made me into one of her own children and helped me feel like I belonged. She is always there for us and always listens to what we are going through even if it’s not academic related.

Lola, always makes sure I’m okay and that I am doing well in school. She supports me in my extracurricular activities and makes sure I am always pushing to do my best.

-Celeste Navarro, 16

All of it

What aren’t I thankful for? Overall, I am most thankful for the life I have. I’m thankful for 17 years of lessons, experiences and the chance to meet all kinds of people.

But, there is one experience that always comes to my mind when I think about thankfulness. My freshman year of high school I joined Kiwanis, a non-profit community service club. We would go out and take part in service events such as coastal clean ups, fundraising for sick people and serving food at soup kitchens. At first I didn’t think much of it, it was just a way I spent my time.

Then, one Christmas my mom and I, went to an event at a soup kitchen to feed and give out gifts to children. It was then that I realized the affect of my participation on my community. I learned there is a difference between helping to make yourself feel better, and helping to see a change.

It gave me a feeling I’d never forget. I also came to a conclusion to be grateful and give thanks to all that I am blessed with that others may not ever get to experience.

– Valeria Bajarano, 17

Thankful for My Mom and Lessons Learned

When I was younger I lived in Mexico. I was obsessed with soccer and I really wanted a soccer ball. Every Friday when my Mom and I went grocery shopping or to the flea market, I asked her buy me a soccer ball but she said we didn’t have enough money. This went on for more than a month or so.

One day my friend had an idea about how we could get a “free” soccer ball. There was a storage room at school where valuable things were kept; trophies, computers, old books, and soccer balls. That day my friend and I went to get basketballs from the room and we left a window half open so we could get back in later. After school we met up and got in through the window we had left open. We each had a bag to put the things in it but I only went for one thing: a soccer ball.

When I got home the first thing I did was inflate the ball and play with it. It was all fun and funny at that time but when my Mom saw the ball, she asked me where I got it and I lied to her, not knowing that she knew it was from school.

She made me return the ball and it was really embarrassing because people saw me. But it was the right thing to do.

This is why I am thankful for my Mom, because when I’m lost or when I don’t know what’s best, she will always have the answer.

-Jose Gonzalez, 17


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