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A love letter to myself in this final stretch


What a life baby. Nearing 28, and so happy, so strong, so smart, con más ganas que nunca.

To think four years ago you were living in a Chevy Malibu, picking up the pieces left of that little girl who wanted to do it all for our community.

To think three years ago you enrolled at Rio Hondo Community College, scared and alone, depressed and with not even an ounce of vision. To think you cried in every hall because you felt like a failure. Because your daughter didn’t have her family. You cried because you failed your history class, you cried because your professors were mad racists, you cried because your math professor told you “it wasn’t my choice to have your kid for you” when you asked to turn in your homework a day late. You cried because no one understood what that semester had riding on it.

To think you cried in the parking lot at Rio Hondo because they told you Grams died in the car on the way down the hill. You cried with Lali, the only counselor who cared, because no one understood what you wanted not even you. You cried in Lali’s office because she heard you and saw everything you were going to create before you could.

You cried in the bathroom at Grams house because you forgot to submit a quiz online because Serenidad was getting her molars, and because Grams and Mom went to Mexico and you had both girls. You cried because both girls are your babies and they were both watching you slack off. You cried because Serenidad still didn't have her family and because there was nothing you could ever do about it. You cried because you didn't have a car to take Serenidad on adventures or even to get to school. You cried because they almost arrested you for that $150,000 warrant but let you go because Serenidad was scared.

You cried at UCLA because you couldn’t nurse Serenidad. You cried at UCLA because you felt fake. You cried at UCLA because you felt lost. You cried at UCLA because people cared about you. You cried at UCLA because you finally belonged somewhere. You cried at UCLA because it felt like home on the fifth floor of the Young Research Library reading about Mexican folklore. You cried at UCLA because you never thought you would actually be there.

You cried because you bought a matte blue Tahoe for you and Serenidad. You cried because she loved that truck. You cried because that car reminded you, you didn’t need anyone.

You cried in the Tahoe because Serenidad was never going to have her family and you finally stopped caring that he chose drugs over you two. You cried because you would have given anything to have Grams yell at you or call you a pendeja or even laugh at you for being so scared of what's next. You cried because Serenidad is going to have a mother with an education. You cried because you’re the first one to do all this work. You cried because grams won't be here to see it.

You cried on the phone with Xtine because your activism and your loud mouth with those hoops shook the whole campus. You cried to Xtine because you felt fake applying to UCLA with a 2.8 GPA. You cried because Xtine asked you to teach your first workshop on kicking ass in academia and cried harder because she told you to bring Serenidad. You cried hard when you wrote “Single Mom on Welfare Meets Community College” for Chicana M(other)work, and then again because they asked you to do a podcast on being a single mom on welfare. You cried the hardest because other mamas cried too because they were glad somebody said it.

You cried because Xtine said apply to New Mexico and you got in. You cried because you were the first to step on a four-year campus as an actual student. You cried because Grams would have cried and bragged that her Celinita was going to college to become a professor. But you laugh because she would have hated that you’re in Chicana/o Studies.

You cried because New Mexico meant going back outside again. New Mexico meant driving without being stalked. New Mexico meant taking Serenidad out to explore because no one would be watching, because you would be far enough that he couldn’t hurt her or you anymore. Far enough that you could heal yourself because you didn’t want someone else again, you could do this shit all alone.

And then the good tears finally started rolling again. You cried because not only are you a college student but you’re an HONORS student. You cried because people cared about your future. You cried because you finally cared about it too. You cared so much you decided a PhD is next and maybe even at an IVY. You cried because you packed up what little bits of your life inside the trunk of a Kia Forte and your mom shipped it because she knew it was time for you to leave. You cried because you would miss them all even though you all were so angry. You cried because we didn’t say it but we were all so proud. You cried because you had to tell you family you needed to get as far as possible, but you cry the hardest because Serenidad wouldn’t have our Poppa. You cried because they came from Mexico so you could have this opportunity and then cried again because everyone’s dreams were manifesting.

You cried because your homegirls were proud. You cried because the homies are watching from their cells, and the street. You cry harder because some of the best homies are watching in spirit. You cry because these degrees are for all of them. You cry because our community needed this and you realize why you had to go through all you did.

You cried because Serenidad was proud of her mommy going to the Lobo school. You still cry because she wants to go there too.

You cry because this shit was so damn hard but you did it all. You cried in your house because it was the first time you had your own space, and Serenidad had her own room. You cried because you remembered living in the Chevy Malibu with no heater and cried because you had your own bathroom now.

This year, you cried because you got a research fellowship that is gonna give you money to do community work, and they paid for you to go back to UCLA and are taking Serenidad to Seattle for you to present about the potential our homies and community have to be amazing. You cry harder because she is already well traveled and knows what funding is.

This year you cried because you finally met people who don’t make you feel crazy and give you love and props on all you do. You cry harder because Serenidad loves them too.

You still cry because people recognize your work and they love how much you care. They cry with you because they want to actually help you get the cap and gown, and eventually see you at the hooding.

You cry because you thought senior year would be the end but it’s actually just the start. You cry because for the first time in five years you feel yourself again. You cry because they pay you to be yourself now and you finally feel valid. You cry because you finally like a guy who is a decent human being and maybe sharing this with someone could be a’ight. And you cry because academia broke you and somehow gave you exactly what you and Serenidad needed.

You keep crying because it’s been rough but we are finally so goddamn happy.

You cry because little Celinita is finally happy too.

You cried because you work so fuckin hard.

Celina Peña is a fourth-year college student at the University of New Mexico, working on Bachelor’s degrees in American Studies and Chicana/o Studies and a mother to four-year-old Serenidad. When she isn’t doing community work or at school Celina and Serenidad can be found reading, painting, or exploring the New Mexico outdoors. As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, her research interests focus on the inclusion of system-impacted communities in access to higher education, Chicana mother scholarship, and language influences and intersections of People of Color communities in urban spaces. She plans to continue doing advocacy work throughout her life for parenting students and Students of Color while eventually pursuing her PhD.

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