The chatter in the huge State House hall invaded my head. The media surrounded me like they were waiting for the president to speak. As I heard my name called, I began my walk to the podium. With every step, I could feel the weight of so many eyes on my back. I took a deep breath and began to recite the words I had practiced in the mirror over and over again. “My name is Elianny Rodríguez. I’m 20 years old and currently a junior at Boston International High School. I have a one-year-old son named Steven. I got pregnant when I was in ninth grade and I felt like my life was gone. Life became difficult and the people that I expected would give me a hand just ran away from me as if I had a contagious illness.” Of all the issues I had to work through with my son, housing left me feeling the most unstable. I moved five times in two years. I even went back to my country, the Dominican Republic. While living there I realized I could not provide a future for my son. I returned to Boston. I applied for a shelter. There was only one emergency bedroom available and it was outside of Boston, in Lynn. I took it. I had to wake up every day at 4 am to come to Boston. I was still late for school. After a few months, I moved back to the city and into a new shelter in Roxbury where I had to share a space with another young mother and her child. My roommate was using drugs. My son was constantly ill because of something he was allergic to in the place. I complained often but ultimately had to move again. I am now in my own apartment in Hyde Park, with help from my mother and my boyfriend. Instead of giving up, I decided to become a voice to be heard. That is why I spoke in front all those people as an advocate at the Teen Parent Lobby Day in March of 2014. Having the opportunity to share my experience allowed me to show everyone that teen mothers can succeed. Now, I advocate for teen mothers because their children are our future. I advocate because I have felt the embarrassment from strangers rolling their eyes as I push my son’s stroller down the street. I advocate because being a teen mother does not ruin lives, but the lack of support can.
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  Growing up, I was so confused. I didn’t have the support of my father to explain both the simple and important things in life – like how to shave or how to be a respectful man. I lived with my mom in Cape Verde. My father and mother were separated. On one occasion, I went to visit my grandfather hours away. When I arrived from the boat, I was cold. He hugged me so hard that I felt his arms wrap around my body like a blanket. He brought me to his house. On the way, the fresh air hit my face. When we passed by the markets, I could smell the cachupa and beans. “I saw in your eyes that something is wrong in your life,” my grandfather said to me. “All my life,” I told him, “I’ve learned important things from my mom. But there are some things that you need to ask a man, things that I can’t talk about with my mom.” “Yes, I understand what you mean,” he said. “I’m here to help and support you.” He started to tell me the story of his life, how he had faced some of the same difficulties. This was more than a simple conversation between grandfather and grandson. It was a big moment that changed my perspective of life forever. One day, I want to teach my son all the things I learned from my grandfather: to respect people and help those who need it; to know that a real man is not the one with the strong voice or the big muscles, but the one who takes up his responsibilities.
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  I was only 10 when I started to work on the farm in Cape Verde. My days started at 5:30 in the morning. I loved the bright and clear mornings, especially sitting on top of a big rock and watching the waves smack the shoreline. The ocean had dots of small lights from the fishermen who worked just as hard as the farmers. They didn’t have any choice, either; they fished – and we farmed -- to survive. My father was an old man but he was still a farmer. He often sat on a chair in front of his room. He told me that he hated when I stole mangos from someone’s property on my way to the farmland. From my dad, I learned about responsibility. He taught me to work hard and reach for my dreams. My mother immigrated to the US when I was in fifth grade. It was very hard for me to grow up separated from her. She didn’t want to leave her family behind but she had no other option but to take the opportunity to help her family. At 12 years old, I stopped attending school because my relatives couldn’t afford to pay for my studies. That money went to buy food. While digging holes to plant corn, I would think about my future. I wondered whether I would always be in a job where I was earning money only to eat and survive. I had dreams of living in a city where there were many movie theatres, cars, and opportunities. At the end of 2009, I was blessed to come to the US. It felt like a relief. I was more than content to leave my homeland behind in a quest for the American Dream. After living in the US for five years, I’m able to see that people back home have to work to survive but in America many people work to make their dreams a reality. Here, I have a chance to become someone better. Here, I have a choice.
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  Tet is the most important holiday in my country. It is the first day of the New Year in the lunar calendar. In Vietnam, people believe that if lucky things happen during Tet, you will have good times the whole year. So everyone prepares: They purchase new clothes and shoes. They gather special fruits like mangos, and colorful flowers. In my country, the flowers are a very important part of our traditional New Year. In Tet, we like flowers of yellow and red -- like marigolds and carnations -- because those are considered the lucky colors. I still remember when I was 12 years old. I helped my cousin sell flowers. It was fun and I could earn money to buy something for my grandparents, like milk. When I think of Tet, I also think of cleaning. It is a tradition to buy brooms to sweep the bad things from the old year out of our houses. We cleaned the floor, windows, doors, tables, chairs, and cabinets. We washed the blankets and the mosquito net. I was really tired but I liked this feeling that hard work results in enjoyment. After we cleaned up, my house would have a good smell and it was like new. Tet is the time all members in the family meet again. Everyone feels happy. This is the first year that I have had Tet in the United States, far from my friends and country. The spring songs I usually hear during Tet, they went silent. The apricot blossoms, I didn’t see them. Now, in my heart, there is only a certain sadness. I miss something: Tet.
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Aiceya Blackwell, 15, from Community Academy of Science and Health, says she knows parents who treat their kids like they are nobodies without any education. “That’s disrespectful,” she says. While everyone points to teens as being the rudest members of a family, often it’s the moms and pops who are over-the-top. “They should treat them better because they wouldn’t like other parents disrespecting their kids like that,” says Ferlando Chery, 15, from the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science. “It lowers their child’s self-esteem.” Daniel Fanfan, 15, from Boston Green Academy, understands why some parents push the limit. “I think parents are disrespectful not because they don’t love or don’t respect their kids,” says Fanfan, “but they do it to teach them life lessons.”
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