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The Case of the Mystery Santa

The Case of the Mystery Santa

By Miss Marm

This Sparkler's college application essay is long, but I think it's pretty fun to read:

I don't have perfect eyesight, but my vision it better than it has ever been. I am Mexican-American. I emigrated to Texas when I was just five-years old and for a long time since then led a double life--a struggle to find my identity in a world that I felt required me to choose between my heritage and the new culture around me. I saw out of clouded lenses, unsure of whom I was supposed to be, thinking my heritage was something I needed to hide, but wishing I didn't have to. Time passed before I could see how foolish such thoughts were, but now I know that my diversity is not something I must hide, but embrace.

However, back then, there were times I wanted to disown my Mexican heritage so I could end the struggle I fought with myself. My parents could not speak English, so I had to serve as a mediator and translator at any school function, while my peers had to endure no such thing; whenever my parents wanted to meet my friend's parents I had to be the intermediary, feeling embarrassed as my friends looked on with wide eyes. I felt like an alien, alone in the world, wanting to leave part of me at home. I wanted just to be the American part of me, but how could I abandon my heritage, my history, a crucial part of myself? I was blind, not seeing that I was blessed to have two cultures, two perspectives from which I could look, limiting myself so much that I saw from behind a blindfold. My parents were supportive of me, they encouraged me to do well in school, but I focused on the negative points of my life-- why could my parents not help me as my friend's parents did? I knew for one that the language would be an issue, but also the fact that my parent's schooling was limited because in Mexico, earning money was more crucial to subsistence that earning an education was.   Whenever I had paperwork that needed to be done, I was the one doing it, and for such minute reasons I was almost resentful. I wanted so much to be just like everyone else.

I loved the traditions my family celebrated: from Dia de los Muertos, to honor our ancestors, to dancing Ballet Folklorico, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and other traditions and ethnic foods my family ate. I loved my heritage but I hated that it set me apart from others. However, if my parents had spoken perfect English, and celebrated all the American traditions, I would not be who I am.  I remember how I was teased when I was younger for not knowing about the Easter bunny and how he delivered eggs; my family just didn't celebrate Easter by egg hunting.

Luckily, the smoke that obscured my vision began to clear shortly after I discovered my teacher delivering 'Santa's' presents to my class. For some strange reason this event served as a catalyst for discovering more about who I was, and accepting myself. Perhaps it was because I knew something no one else did, or because my newly attained vantage point let me see from a place my peers could not.

For whatever reason the discovery that Santa Claus was a hoax led me to question other things, mainly if the way I had been thinking was all wrong. I remembered how fascinated I was when I learned that friend Kai Xin celebrated New Years at a completely different time that the rest of the my school, and had food I found a lot more interesting; I loved when I got to perform at my friend's Buddhist temple. They weren't like me, or most other people for that matter, but they didn't mind.

In a way, my life has been full of lessons that have helped shape who I am now. I am grateful that my family is not like everyone else's. I've learned that diversity adds color to a black and white picture, and flavor to an otherwise bland dish. If my family had become a cookie cutter "American" family, I would not have learned how wonderful it is to be different, and how important it is to accept who you are. Sure, I need to wear glasses, but I've gained a clarity of vision I'm grateful for.

Here's what I love about this essay:

Your clean, convincing prose. Your economical sentences are a pleasure to read.

Your ability to communicate your feelings. Your passion, humility, and intelligence really come across. You're also emotional without being sentimental or purple, and that's no mean feat.

Here are the changes I'd suggest:

Make sure you're making one--and only one--point per paragraph. If the paragraph is about how resentful you were of your parents, make it about that alone. Don't let yourself drift into a preview of the way you eventually embraced your heritage.

Get rid of the eyesight conceit. Using vision as a metaphor for openmindedness is a bit of a cliche, so you may lose points for unoriginality. And you're not getting any mileage out of all the glasses/eyesight/clarity stuff, since it doesn't relate to a specific story in your essay. Finally, if you start your essay with a sentence about eyesight, readers will think, "Got it. I'm oriented. This essay will be about eyesight," and they'll feel confused when that turns out not to be true.

Figure out the Santa story. This is the crucial anecdote in your essay. You're presenting it as the major catalyst for change, the event that caused you to reevaluate the way you feel about your background. But as you admit, you haven't figured out exactly why you were so strongly affected by the sight of your teacher delivering presents. The significance of the story is murky in your own mind and in the essay. Before you revise, do some hard thinking about what the Santa incident meant. If you're struggling, try talking it over out loud with a friend. You'll need to solve this problem in order to make your essay powerful and logically sound.

Sparklers, got any suggestions for the writer? (And "got" any strong feelings about my phrasing? Hee hee.)

Topics: application essays, santa

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