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Through The Eyes Of My Father

By: Brenda, Riley’s Way Senior Intern, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Vamos a ir al rancho.” We are going to the ranch, said my cousin. The seven year old in me did not understand what the ranch was. She believed that it was a place where children would go to play under the excruciating rays of the bright yellow sun. She was still in the mindset of the American girl accustomed to the easy strolls across the three long gray pavements that would eventually lead her to the park, but this was not America.

¿Cuanto más nos falta para llegar al rancho?” How much more time do we need until we reach the ranch? I asked.

Solo nos falta escalar esta montaña y estaremos allí con tu abuelito.” We just need to climb up this mountain and your grandfather will be there, replied my cousin.

As I looked up and shielded my eyes from the sun, I could already feel my legs getting weak and taste the dryness of my parched lips.

We stopped for a brief moment when a bright, small, red, skinny chili pepper caught my attention at the side of the mountain.

Image of the red chili pepper Brenda tried

¿Lo quieres probar?” Do you want to try it? asked my cousin.

I nodded as she carefully turned the red chili pepper around and pulled it from its stem. As she handed me the chili she said, “Tu papá siempre se comía estos chiles cuando se iba al rancho.” Your father always ate these chili peppers on the way to the ranch.

As I placed the chili pepper in my mouth, I was expecting it to be spicy, but to my surprise, it had a sweet, satisfying taste that took my thirst away and I asked my cousin for more, but to my dismay, that was the only red chili pepper that day on the mountain.

Suddenly, I felt despondent as I realized the reality of what the ranch was. Around me, there were only rocks, dry sand, and no shade to hide me from the burning sting on my bare skin. I saw my 15-year old father taking this trip by himself with his brown, broken sandals. I felt his tiredness and sorrow as he climbed the mountain everyday to cultivate different crops of beans, corn, and other vegetables to support his family.

Image of migrant worker on the field

I may not have understood the term empathy then but that day on the mountain, I learned what it meant to come from an immigrant family. Without empathy, it would have taken me a longer time to put myself in my father’s shoes to understand why he moved to this country. Today empathy and kindness play a key role in the decisions I make.

Now that I am interning for Riley’s Way Foundation, I am reflecting on my past experiences of how I used kindness and empathy in my life. Riley’s Way Foundation is a non-profit organization that teaches young leaders to spread kindness and use empathy to make meaningful connections and positive change in their communities. I feel that it’s important for children to learn this at a young age so they can grow up to be role models and spread kindness within their community.

Brenda