We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofSarah Azevedo

I never understood why my mom would always call me back inside once the street lights turned on. During the summer of fourth grade, when I was 10 years-old, all I wanted to do was play outside with my neighbors. We played kickball, manhunt, hide n’ seek. Who cared if the sun was finally going down? I just wanted to be a kid. After a long day in the heat it was exactly what we needed. Why did the fun always have to end when those stupid street lights turned on? 

When I was little, I never liked watching the news. I thought it was boring and they never even had any good stories, but then one night before dinner when I was 10 my father turned on our television to listen in as he cooked. I heard for the first time that young girls were being taken from their homes, usually during the night, and never were seen again. He turned to me, and said _Cuidado la fora, _“Be careful outside.” My tiny 4th grade mind could not comprehend how or why that was happening, and why I needed to be careful. Where were the witnesses? Where were the police? Where was anyone that could have helped them? Is this why Mom made me come back inside, and why did I have to grow up in a world where I could not feel safe when the street lights were on? I stared mesmerized at the bright yellow lights illuminating our road before I snapped back into reality.

One of the first days back to school from vacation into fifth grade, I remember one of my friends was ”dress coded” meaning a teacher told her that her bright blue tank top was too inappropriate for school.The teacher demanded she go to our school´s closet of clothes and select a different shirt. I was beyond confused, and in a burst of curiosity, I asked the teacher, “Why can't she wear that?” She simply responded “Don´t you see what's happening on the news? You have to respect yourselves!” Looking back, I now realize that at the ripe age of 10, I was being conditioned to hide behind my clothing as an act of self-defense. Shorts quickly turned into jeans, leggings couldn´t be worn outside of dance practice, no tops that showed even a centimeter of my stomach, and certainly no staying out past the second the streetlights turned on because it made me prey to the world.

It would be many years before I questioned this world I lived in. One day in my sophomore year I was scrolling through the thousands of memes, and selfies on instagram when I was confronted with pictures of clothing. Not for sale, not an outfit of the day post either. These were articles of clothing worn by survivors of assault. Tshirts, jeans, long sleeved sweaters, pantsuits, even police uniforms. I realized that clothing wasn’t what made you prey. A plethora of questions all hit me at once: why were women so blatantly disrespected, why wasn't our society doing something to protect us and why was it my job to hide behind my own clothing?

Sometimes now I feel like I'm suffocating, drowning in my own anxieties as I choose my next outfit, take public transportation, and walk home from work after closing. I am always complying with the restrictions that have been forced onto me. Even at 17 I still sit and stare at the yellow tinted street lights. My questions might never have an answer, but I hope that the next generation has the freedom to walk in the streets once the street lights are on and wear the clothes they want to wear. 

© Sarah Azevedo . 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.