Dear María: Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self

Dear María: Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self

May 21, 2020
Category: Anytown
Tags: , , ,

A Hispanic woman wearing black glasses smiling beside her brown dog outside in front of trees.

Dear María,

I’m writing to you from the year 2020. You’re inching closer to your 30s, with short hair, and a dog, actually. Congratulations! It’s a Sunday afternoon in Greensboro and you’ve finally learned to sit still in this city, not quite really by choice at the moment. I mean, err, I’m not supposed to say much about the state of the world in the future, but let’s just say 2020 will suck for a while but you’re learning to breathe through it.

You with mom, about to board the bus to ANYTOWN for the first time.

You’re 17. Right now, you’re likely figuring out what to do with your friends on the upcoming weekend. As an adult, you’ll be often told to think about “what you’d tell your younger self.” Any piece of advice you wish you had, any wise words you want to give yourself, et cetera, et cetera. (Oh yeah, as an adult you’ll also learn how to actually spell “etc.” out.)

If I could be with you right now, I’d sit with you, six feet apart (this will make sense in 10 years), and tell you you’re doing fine, todo va a estar bien. I honestly would also want to take your lime green slide phone and throw it into an abyss, although that wouldn’t make us friends. But I’d tell you whatever is in that phone doesn’t define you, that whoever is in there doesn’t have any right over you, your body or who you are. I’d tell you that you can roll the R in your name if you want to, even if everyone looks back at you all freaked out or your friends ask Why do you have to say it like that?

And I’d tell you that when you finally get that social security card from the US government, you are allowed to correct them and tell them that, actually, you have a second last name, that it belongs to your mom and that it identifies you, too. It’s okay to do that, to correct people and let them know how you’d prefer they refer to you. But I know it can be scary, so take your time with it.

I’d take your hand and let you touch my hair. I know what you’re going to say, but this really is your hair! Without treatments, without straighteners, without judgements. Now, anyone can style their hair as they wish. I know you’ve straightened your hair every time that boy has broken up with you and girl, if you don’t quit! Ah okay, okay, I’m sorry. I promised no judgements. But in time, you’ll see what I mean. Us girls, we’re taught to cater to others, to men, to magazines, to everyone around us but, you’ll soon learn you were never really wired for that.

You’ll come back to ANYTOWN again and again. Here you are as a peer counselor with your friend Ketsia.

When is the last time you talked about your culture with one of your friends? I’m just curious. I think you’d really enjoy talking about it and they’ll enjoy getting to know more about the parts of you that don’t often come out. Sadly, certain aspects will begin to fade a little bit with time. But the life of an immigrant is one of constant reinvention. You’ll learn that your multifaceted identity is going to help you through a lot. Trust me, laughing in Spanish really hits differently – jaja.

What’s that you ask? Do you still color-code everything at 27 years old? Yes, of course, and you still underline headings with the little ruler in your pencil pouch. You see, I’m still very much like you and you’re still very much like me. The only difference is that at 27, those little big things you’re keeping inside will burst out continuously, without apology. Si, tranquila, relax. Take a deep breath with me for a moment. You’ll get to travel physically and emotionally everywhere you’ve wanted to go, places you don’t even know yet.

I have to go. We do yoga at night now, mamá loves it. But I want you to keep this letter in that folder where you keep the rest, next to dad’s poems. Read this letter when you feel alone and picture me there telling you, todo va a estar bien.



P.S. – Please don’t buy those Wallabee shoes. Also, dance with whoever you want to at prom.


Note to you (the reader) – Writing this letter to my past self got me thinking about what I might say to my future self about what I’m experiencing right now. A friend told me about a website that allows folks to write a letter to themselves today, that will arrive by email 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years from now – their choice. What might you say to your future self about what you are experiencing right now, what you are learning about yourself, and what you hope for the future? Consider taking some time out today to send your future self a note at