Every year as part of the annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration, high school students from Middle Tennessee are invited to participate in the Essay and Multimedia Contest for Young Latino Writers.

The purpose of this contest is to listen to the voices of the new generation of Latino voices in our community – Middle Tennessee high school students who reflected on the theme of “My Hispanic Roots, My American Dream.”

We would like to extend a special thank the teachers of Metro Nashville Public Schools, LEAD Academy, and University School Nashville for encouraging their students to submit essays and multimedia projects, and for all they do to celebrate our roots. 

This year Conexión Américas received the most entries ever in the ten years of the contest, and the selection committee had a difficult time deciding the four finalists. To recognize the outstanding work the students submitted, Conexión Américas decided to honor not just three finalists and a winner, but to also name three additional essays as honorable mentions.

The grand prize of a laptop computer went to Angel Flores, an 11th grader at Lead Academy, who wrote eloquently of his and his family’s motivations to move to the US and the struggles they still encounter despite being in the land of opportunity. Conexión Américas honored three more finalist essays, all which touch on similar themes: hard work and sacrifice, the difficulties of learning a new language and a hope to succeed with their own version of the American dream. The three honored essays were authored by Jeri Lopez, 9th grader at LEAD Academy; Eduardo Mendoza Zavaleta, 12th grader at Cane Ridge High School; and Yamilet Ortiz, 10th grader at University School of Nashville.

The honorable mention category featured three essays by: Jose Padron, 11th grader at LEAD Academy; Justin Martinez, 10th grader at LEAD Academy; and Yenni Guadalupe Gonzalez Salinas, 9th grader at University School of Nashville.

Winning Essays

Angel Flores vividly describes his home country, Mexico, and the reasons he and his family emigrated to the United States. He speaks fondly of the Mexico he knows, its proud and patriotic people, but also of the violence he and his family were forced to escape. While he misses Mexico, Angel is determined to stay in the US, his new home –even though it hasn’t been easy–to honor the sacrifices his family has made to get here.

He writes:

No volvería porque no desperdiciare las lágrimas, esfuerzo y sacrificio que mis padres que hicieron para venir a Estados Unidos, porque no desperdiciaría el último abrazo que le di a mi abuela, no desperdiciaría el “cada vez que me acuerdo de ti lloro todo el día” de mi abuela, no desperdiciaría el “se mejor de lo que yo alguna vez pude ser” de mi abuelo, no desperdiciaría el “me enorgulleces” de mi papa, no desperdiciare el “que te valla bien” de mi mama todos los días cuando voy al escuela. Porque nunca olvidaré esa tarde de Febrero cuando mi familia se reunió una última vez para decirnos adiós…

In English:

I wouldn’t go back because I wouldn’t waste the tears, the hard work and sacrifice my parents made to come to the US, because I wouldn’t waste the last hug I gave my grandmother, because I wouldn’t waste the “every time I think of you I cry all day” from my grandmother, because I wouldn’t waste the “be better than I could be” of my grandfather,” because I wouldn’t waste the “you make me proud” from my father, because I wouldn’t waste the “have a good day” from my mother everyday when I go to school. Because I will never forget that afternoon in February when my family got together for the last time to bid us goodbye.


Eduardo Mendoza Zavaleta was also a finalist last year. His essay exemplifies the struggle of young people who have spent most of their lives in the United States, but still long for the home that they left. He writes:

Over the years I have adopted the American culture. Living within a city where there music is constantly playing… At heart I feel at one with this country. Yet there is always a piece of me that will forever belong to my hispanic roots.

The bright beautiful colors. The sweet scent of freshly cooked bread. The nice calm sounds that could only be heard out in the country. This was my home. A beautiful town where there were not even concrete roads. Where my grandmother took us out to walk. I hope to one day see it again. Exactly the way it was as the day I left. I hope to see the beautiful colors painted across the outside of the hand made buildings. To once again be able to smell the same bread that was made by hand. To hear that nice calming sound that I have not heard since I have left. The day I finally experience these again, is the same day I can finally say I am home.

In her essay, Yamilet Ortiz thinks critically about what it means to be Hispanic in this country, and how it shapes her view on her American dream. She writes:

The first existential crisis I remember, the kind where you get all fidgety and nervous and you can hear your heart’s pulse through your ears, happened to me unexpectedly; I was eight. I never imagined that standardized testing could make me question my identity so much (or maybe it was the pre-test jitters getting to me). While filling out the personal information sheet, I was bemused by the overwhelming amounts of the different options of races to choose from. I thought, “How am I supposed to choose? What do I qualify as? ¿Quíen soy?” Heavily and neatly, with my #2 pencil, I filled in the bubble labeled “Hispanic”, and that’s what I’ve been identifying myself as for the past 7 years of my life.

Like many of our stand-outs, Jeri Lopez came to the US as a child not speaking any English. It was a long journey from Honduras to meet his parents, who had come in advance to start a life with which to welcome him, but he made it. He writes in English and Spanish:

Sí, estas son mis raíces hispanas pero yo creo que todos tenemos sueños americanos. Por ejemplo, el mío era aprender la cultura americana y sí lo logré. Mucha gente tiene mucha esperanza de lograr algo importante o feliz en sus vidas. Intentan y se caen y se levantan y se caen y se levantan pero nunca se rinden hasta lograr lo que quieren. América es el perfecto lugar para learn y trabajar para laugh and cry para cuidar and help para hacer oportunidades. You only need a little hope and that hope will grow and grow and never stop and yes, I can still smell my mango with chile and my papayas and tajadas and yes if you ask me where am I from I will answer blue and white with 5 stars. And yes, you will say “Honduras” and I will be glad to have my country near my side. I am from Central America and I cannot change my identity or my country or my habits or even my favorite singers but one thing that I am sure that I can change is to have a 2nd culture, a second language. But I will not change my mango and chile because it is favorite.

The first part in English:

Yes, these are my Hispanic roots, but I believe that all of us have American dreams. For example, mine was to learn the American culture, and I succeeded in that. Many hope to be successful in something important in their lives. They try and fail, get back up again and fail, get back up again and fail, but they never give up until they’ve accomplished what they’ve set out to do. America is the perfect place to learn and work, to laugh and cry, to help and make opportunities.

Honorable Mention Essays

Jose Padron writes of the hard work ethic his parents have instilled in him.

The first time I went to Mexico it hit me with how harsh was their life. I worked for less than a day in the fields and my body was done after one surco and I couldn’t imagine the pain in my back and arms after a full day of work every day. I had so much respect to my parents especially my dad because he started working different jobs at age 12. The hot climate in Mexico can be crucial so you would have to wear a Sombrero to protect you from the sun. You would have to put on a long sleeve shirt and pants to work. I have learned much more about my family and seen what they had to sacrifice for us to have a better life. The biggest sacrifice they had to do is leaving family members and not seeing them for many years. My parents came from nothing with a big family so it was hard for their parents to raise them with little money. They had to look out for each other and take care of their younger siblings.

Justin Martinez writes about the struggle to confront others’ expectations of who he should be and find his own identity.

All my life, I’ve been told I’m not a “real” Mexican. “Wait! You don’t eat guacamole?!” “You’re not gonna put salsa on your taco?” “What do you mean you don’t like soccer?” Everyone in my life questioned if I was really latino or not. My parents and my brothers refused to eat anything without my abuelita’s salsa. Meanwhile, I felt accomplished finishing an entire tortilla. At parties, I was the only one who didn’t know every single word to Selena’s “Amor prohibido”. But what set me apart from everyone else in my family was something bigger than my food preferences or my hobbies. I was the very definition of what a latino should never be. I was “unacceptable” and “disgraceful” in the eyes of my family and in the eyes of everyone else around me, for that matter. I was gay. Latino or not, everyone around me could always tell there was something off about me. People seemed, almost, horrified at the idea that I didn’t have the same goals as every other mexican boy around me.

In a truly poetic voice, Yenni Guadalupe Gonzalez Salinas expertly weaves Spanish sayings into an English essay claiming her rightful identity. She writes:

I come from a strong single mother who came to the United States of America to work all day and night to give her two children that opportunity to be a somebody in life.

I come from what I call “el barrio”, where everyone knows each other yet we can not trust each other, and it motivates me to study harder every single day to give my family a better life.

I come from the beautiful mariachi melody that makes me realize, I have goals and the time never stops running neither does the world stop turning, so I really should never stop trying.

I am from, “No puedes empezar desde arriba, siempre vas a empezar desde abajo y irte para arriba, y si te caes te tienes que levantar porque y si verdaderamente quieres algo vas a luchar hasta conseguirlo” because life has taught me that the roses come with thorns.

That phrase in English:

I am from, “you can’t start from the top, you are always going to start from the bottom and make your way up, and if you fall, you have to get up because if you really want something you’ll have to fight until you get it”

Thank you again to all the students who participate and the teachers who support and encourage them. We encourage all of you to participate again next year!