Three Essays by PEN In The Classroom Students

In the October 2012 edition of the PEN In The Classroom Newsletter, we shared a writing sample from Maritza V., a PITC student at John Marshall High School. Martiza wrote a beautiful short essay in response to an “I Come From” prompt, which encouraged students to write about what makes them who they are today. Many people responded enthusiastically to Maritza’s writing, including Venice High School host teacher Dennis Danziger, who was inspired to use the writing prompt with his senior students.

From host teacher Dennis Danziger:

“I have used the ‘I Come From’ essay you posted in your newsletter in all my classes, and it has produced the best work of the year. Thanks. My students have really stepped up because of it. I've rarely seen students dig into an assignment and soar as they have with this one.”

Three students in Mr. Danziger’s class—Marcus Anderson, Fernando Garcia, and Steve Miramontes (pictured)—have generously agreed to share their “I Come From” essays with us.

By Marcus Anderson

I come from a proud African-American background; my ancestors’ struggles paved the path for my generation’s success. I fear that this path has been covered with guns, weed, and violence. Hundreds of years of fighting for rights for my people, for what? Weed-smoking gangsters? This is not how Martin Luther King Junior, Malcom X, or Rosa Parks envisioned the African-American race.

I come from decades of oppression, working all day for no pay. I come from the leather whips used to tear chunks of skin out of the backs of my people. I come from the souls that have been sacrificed for the black cause; through me they live on. I come from the millions who have been denied the opportunity to go to school and become educated; through me they learn. I come from my black women who were raped by white men who impregnated these women then never returned; through me they gain their sense of mind back. I come from liquor store owners who eyeball young black teens upon walking in for fear that they will steal.

I come from the creation of Soul, Gospel, and R&B. I come from black folk tales told by my ancestors to keep each other encouraged and optimistic while enslaved. I come from a long line of hardworking individuals who made it possible to have a black president. I come from fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and backyard barbeques with family that feasted on ribs, chicken, beans, beer, and moments that last a lifetime.

What few people know is that I come from an equally proud group of people, Mexican-Americans. I come from grandparents who came to the U.S as teenagers and weaved something out of nothing. I come from a mother who was raised speaking Spanish and learned English as a second language. I come from homemade posole on Christmas morning after opening our gifts. I come from carrying pounds of masa for the most amazing tamales known to man, my grandma’s. I come from the many people out there who are mixed with two incredible races with so much pride.

I Come From
By Fernando Garcia
I come from killer California where people die for wearing the wrong colors.
I come from kids selling weed to make a living.
I come from two immigrants who came to LA for a better life.
I come from helicopters shining their lights in my window because they're trying
to find the guy they shot down the block.
I come from having three pitbulls in my house just to make sure no one breaks in.
I come from eating Yoshinoya noodles for a month ’cause my mom wouldn't let me in the house.
I come from kids running away from cops like their lives depended on it.
I come from LA where the sun warms you up, the ocean breeze cools you down, where sirens make you paranoid, and cops take advantage of their authority.
I come from freeways looking like art galleries.
This is why I thank God every morning, because you never know if you'll survive another day in LA.

Irish-Mexican Angeleno
By Steve Miramontes

I come from a Mother and Father who almost died before they conceived me. That would have been a loss. I come from my parents crashing their 1967 Supernova in Guadalajara, Mexico. My Dad flew out the windshield. The stick shift of the car impaled halfway into my Mother’s stomach. I come from almost being born in Guatemala and almost being named Dillon Alexander.
I come from being arrested at the age of 8 after shooting some kid in the eye with a BB gun. He took my cookie.
I come from my Dad getting busted for GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and starting his own “Chop-Shop.” 
I come from waking at 3 a.m. at the age of 12 on my Dad’s 40th birthday to see him and his friends getting lap dances from strippers, and my Dad’s girlfriend yelling, “Steve get out of here.”
I come from a grandfather who constantly talks about heaven and hell. I come from a Catholic family that never goes to church.
I come from celebrating St.Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo.
I come from a butt-whooping at home if I don’t do well in school.
I come from eating corned beef and cabbage to carne asada tacos and chilaquiles.
I come from a Mexican family, but I speak hardly any Spanish.
I come from having fake friends. I come from having only a few friends that I will never forget.
I come from a family that doesn’t like any sports, and they keep up that tradition. I worship the San Diego Chargers.
I come from picking my sister up from the juvenile detention center in East L.A.
I come from my Dad teaching me to pay attention to politics, meaning don’t vote for someone in particular because you are rich or because you don’t like the color of their skin. Vote for someone that you know will help and strive to make America better not just you. I come from an idiotic country that elected George Bush to be president.
I come from my Mom teaching me to never to give up until I’m happy with my life.
I come from a perfect family that turned into crap when my parents divorced.
I come from smoking weed for my first time at the age of 15 and remembering that I couldn’t feel my legs and that my Mom’s food actually tasted good.
My name, Steve Miramontes, doesn’t match my face, but the blood pumping through my veins matches both of my races.