We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofRommel Neri

When I was little, I lived in a bad neighborhood in Argentina. I’m from Buenos Aires, and my neighborhood has a lot of dangerous people because of all of the gangs. Every time I was in the car and driving  somewhere, every wall on the street was covered with graffiti. My dad didn’t let me leave the house because the streets were dangerous, so I usually didn’t go out. I only went out if my friends and I agreed to go somewhere specific. I hung out with a group of friends that were a bit dangerous and scary. My group of friends usually protected each other, and we always had each other’s back when crazy stuff happened. In the group, I was usually the tiny one because all of my friends look way bigger than me.  One day there was a big tournament of jiu jitsu. The tournament was so big I decided to invite my friends to join me. My friends didn’t know a lot of jiu jitsu, so I explained to them the rules and how you win. The tournament started, and I made it all the way to the semifinals. My bracket had some strong looking people and I managed to get through all of them. I got called up for my next match, and I got to compete against someone who looked like he had no skill and was not strong. My friends saw him, and before I went out they told me I better not lose to someone like him. During the match I dominated most of the time, until the second round came up and I got slammed a couple of times. The third period came up, and I looked over at my friends, and they looked disappointed, I tapped out and lost the match.  The next day came, and I went to school. My friends started making fun of me, saying I wasn’t strong. I figured I had lost their respect. After that experience, days went by, and my parents told me that we were moving to the United States. I felt sad, and the next day, I told my friends. We gave each other a good group hug, and I realized I hadn’t lost them as friends.  We arrived in the U.S., and a month passed by, and I was already in a jiu jitsu club for teens. I didn’t have many friends because of my English, but I met friends from the club who also spoke Spanish.  Another week passed, and it was time for a tournament. I didn’t invite any- body. It was just the team and my parents. Once I arrived, the place looked almost the same as the tournament In Argentina, except it was more modern. The tournament began, and I had a good start and made it to the finals. From my team, I was the only one who made it to the finals. I sent a picture to my old friends in Argentina and they were impressed. My match began, and my opponent didn’t look strong, but he had skills, so I respect that. After two periods, I thought about the day that I lost and used that as motivation. The match began and I did my best and made him tap out...I won! I went to shake my opponent’s hand and he congratulated me and told me I would become a great wrestler. I got my belt, took a picture, and sent it to my friends back home. They said a lot of good things, and told me how when I come back, they would not make fun of me, that they’d respect me from now on. From all that I have been through, I have learned that life can get tough, but you need to keep trying. 

© Rommel Neri. 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.