2018 Winner

Daniela Schmitz

Moon Township, PA

I was born in Santiago, Chile on a cool winter morning in July of 2001. My father, who had lived in downtown Santiago for most of his life, had met my mother, an engineer from a small, 1700-person town in Illinois, when their companies did a joint venture in Memphis, Tennessee. After falling in love, marrying in the States, and moving back down to Chile, I was brought into the downtown world of smog and sound, followed by my brother a few years later.

I don’t remember much about Santiago and the early years of my life, but I do recall bragging to my friends that “my house had an elevator in it” (it was just a simple apartment) and playing around with Jack, the family dachshund that I had lovingly referred to as the Hot-Dog Dog (El Perrito Salchicha).

In the April of 2005, my parents uprooted us and moved us up to Eufala, Alabama, leaving behind an exasperated extended family and an empty apartment. It took me an entire month to even begin speaking English at all. After talking so much Spanish, it took ages for me to acclimate. I went to a public school in the south of Alabama, and the most notable memories were always those of homesickness and heartache. I never got to see my grandma, my aunt, or my favorite puppy. I had one friend, Lydia, who always wore pigtails and had the highest voice in all of my memory.

One teacher in particular, Ms. Merry, was exceptional in aiding my transition from an urban South American daycare to a small, Southern, public preschool. She was patient during my tantrums, comforting during my tears, and helpful during my bouts of confusion with the English language. Without her, I would have been suffering for a long time, lonely and in Alabama.

In the March of 2007, once again my family had to follow their boss and move up to Moon Township, Pennsylvania. My English was pretty good at this point, but my Spanish was beginning to diminish. We lived in a townhouse for 2 years, during which my second little brother was born.

During this entire period of time, we had a wonderful nanny living with us. Her name was Bernarda, and she was a part of our family since way back when we were living in Santiago. With both of my parents working, she was the person I saw when I got home from elementary school, and she was one of my dearest friends.

In 2008, on the day of Trick-or-Treat, I came home and Bernarda wasn’t there. I cried and cried, and when my parents got home they explained to me that she missed her home and her family, so she had to go back. But I didn’t understand, because here was home, we were her family. I could not grasp the concept, crying all evening and refusing to go out and dress up with all of the other kids.

After Bernarda left, we decided to move into a real, nice house in a gated community. I live in this comfortable house to this day, sitting in its interior as I write this simple summary of my life’s moves.

Had I never left Alabama, I would have a Southern accent and a wildly different worldview. I would have never seen snow, and I would have only seen farmland.

I’m not going to act as if I remember every aspect of every move in vivid detail, because the mind of a child tends to only be able to retain the scariest and silliest of stories. However, the impacts of such changes continue to impact my life.

My Spanish, while decent in a classroom setting, was nowhere near where it needed to be to appease my Latino father. It still isn’t. Had we never left Chile, I would be speaking Spanish at the speed of light and going to a private school with a preppy uniform. I would have lived with my Abuela in the next room, and my aunt and uncle on the next block.

I now attend a school where, if asked whether their grandparents graduated from the same place, half of the class raises their hand. None of my friends’ parents had ever thought of moving, of raising their children in a different place.

Moving so much in the early years of my life has made me want to see more of the world. I am aware that there is so much more in this life for me to find. After living in so many different places and environments, I can no longer ever imagine living in one place forever. I don’t want to ever get stuck in the mindset of millions living here that America is the only place to be, because it in no way is. The patriotism and self-celebration that occurs in America can often blind people to the opportunities and experiences of other countries, other cultures, other worlds.

I would not be who I am today without all of the people I have met in all of the places I have lived. Different places from different worlds have given me a hundred definitions of home: our small, cozy apartment in Chile where I can smell my Abuela’s cigarette smoke as I gaze out at the majestic peaks of Los Andes; the small room in the schoolhouse of Eufala where Ms. Merry would hug me and rock me until my sadness subsided; the small outcropping where me and my friends would hide and play DS games until we heard our parents yell. These were home, and still are, as are dozens more.

I know from all of the moving in my life that I can’t be tethered. I have seen these other places where I can find different pieces of myself, all building up to become the being that is me, shaped by a thousand worlds and a part of each one.

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