We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

← Back to all stories
Photo ofErica Jensen

Growing up, I lived with my mom, dad, and two sisters. We didn’t have much, but at the same time, we had a lot. My mom stayed at home and ran the house, while my dad worked. My mom did have jobs later  in life, but for the most part, she stayed home and took care of my siblings and me. I am eternally grateful for everything I had growing up.  We all lived together in an apartment. Our apartment building grew to be more diverse over the years. At first, the apartments were filled with mostly White people. Everyone kept to themselves, unless you knew them, of course. So, whenever I wanted to go out and play with another kid, I’d go to someone’s apartment, and I would ask them if they wanted to play with me. Once more people of different ethnicities moved into our building, my family wanted me to be more careful about who I played with.  As a kid, I never realized why people had problems with a White girl playing with non-White kids. My neighborhood mostly had apartments and a lot  of grass for children to play in. With more people coming to America, they needed places to live. So, the city built more apartments, hotels, and motels in my neighborhood. I was ecstatic to meet more kids! Once the apartments were built, I would talk to the new tenants, and try to scope out who had kids my age. Unfortunately, the new buildings didn’t bring kids my age; they brought adults.  In the blink of an eye, everything changed. My mom told my sisters and I to be careful, not to talk to strangers, and to be home before dark. I was con- fused, because we didn’t have these rules before. I connected the dots and realized that we had these rules because of our new neighbors. To my mom, it didn’t matter what ethnicity my neighbors were; it was what they wanted to do to kids my age. Growing up in that type of environment was scary.  I was always embarrassed of where I lived as a child, and I wanted to live in a house. I never really knew why I wanted to live in a house, but I guess it was because of where I lived. We were labeled, and I didn’t want to be labeled; I wanted to be normal. If anyone asked where I lived, I would tell them, “Over by the Cash Wise grocery store.” They would get the general location, and we would stop talking about it. My siblings and I never had friends over, instead we would always go to our friends’ houses. It was like a big secret that no one could know, even though everyone knew it.  Years passed, and we were still in the same apartment and little to nothing changed. I was surrounded by people of every color. I never saw life so beautiful as what I got to see and experience through people of different backgrounds. Living in the same place for eighteen years actually helped me see what type of environment I want for my future. Living where I can hear and see different languages, music, and clothing made me realize that is the kind of life I want to be around. Growing up where I did, allowed me to see how diversity played a role in society. Understanding different cultures, religions, and belief systems has not only changed the way I see America, but it has changed the way I live. 

© Erica Jensen. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.