College Essay: ‘Wherever you come from does not define you’

When I tell people I live in north Minneapolis, their eyes often get wide.

I glanced down in sorrow, knowing I was too young to help them. But I decided then and there that I was destined to break the cycle of living in poverty.

I get it. Drive-by shootings, poverty and drugs surround my block, along with the constant smell of marijuana. Fluffy brown and white teddy bears remember the dead, barely hanging by their strings on trees and posts. Young men hang around corner stores, asking teenagers to buy drugs. They often hide in the dark shadows.

Some of them were even my friends growing up. Tears of sadness fall down my cheek knowing that most of my friends in the neighborhood will not graduate.

I was born and raised in one of the most crime-filled neighborhoods in all of Minnesota. My freshman year, I started spiraling down the same path as some of the gangbangers around me, but gladly, my mom stopped that from happening. Despite all the violence and gangs surrounding my neighborhood, my mother has inspired me to rise above, to go to college and to become a filmmaker.

Jose Popoca Palmas, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

My freshman year of high school was one of the worst but most impactful years in my life. It was a late summer day in 2014, the crickets chirped to the moonlight and my room was just quiet enough to hear the atmosphere around me. The voices from the downstairs dining room pounded against my bedroom walls, and my curiosity followed the noise.

The wind slapped the window as I quietly made my way toward the yelling. As I stepped forth with heavy strides, I peeked around the corner to see my mother and father in the dining room. My dad said in his native Spanish, “We don’t have enough money to pay the bills.”

I glanced down in sorrow, knowing I was too young to help them. But I decided then and there that I was destined to break the cycle of living in poverty. It all started with my mother’s support.

She would constantly remind me to do well in school because education was important to her. She did not have the opportunity to attend college because she was born and raised in a poor, broken home in Mexico. She crossed the U.S.-Mexico border not knowing what the future had in store for her, but she was willing to risk it all for a chance for a better future for her children. Her goal in life was to see her children accomplish what she could not growing up.

My mom means more to me than any of my former drug addict friends, many of whom I know will not graduate. She’s the reason that I live safely in my neighborhood and stopped hanging out with some of the bad influences around me. “A mother can always predict if your friends are good or bad,” she’d tell me.

She’s also the reason I attend Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in south Minneapolis, where I met impactful teachers and friends that would guide one another in the search for success. They helped me get mentally ready for college and to find the right college as well.

Over time I started realizing that everything my mom had told me was right. I started taking school more seriously, asking help from history, English and math teachers, and studying more. I stayed out of the north Minneapolis streets and was more active in the classrooms and in soccer, as well as in volunteering in church. I also dove into the world of creativity, creating videos with friends that would make people in the community laugh.

Attending college to study film, writing and journalism would show my family and friends that wherever you come from does not define you. I started to realize that with dedication and hard work, I am able to accomplish anything.

I used to believe that my surroundings would define who I am, but I was wrong. Thanks to my mom’s guidance, I am able to define my own future.