On Being Handicapped

            Handicapped is a term that implies helplessness. A term used to describe an individual with disabilities, usually mental or physical. I was born handicapped, not mentally nor physically, but socially. Certain traits I carry as a unique individual have crippled me; deeming me “helpless” and “disabled” in modern society. As a short, diabetic, Latino American, bisexual, male, I have experienced soul shattering ignorance and gone through heart-wrenching obstacles. Through a great part of my life, I felt like the person I am was a curse, rather than a blessing. But just as a mentally or physically handicapped individual is no less valuable than anyone else, I learned that what I had seen as disabilities did not make me any less valuable than any other individual in the entire world, despite differences in race, size, gender, health, or sexual orientation. In fact, my unique characteristics shaped me to become the strong, proud individual I am today.      

            My ethnicity has had a great impact on the person I am today. I am Dominican and Puerto-Rican and being a Latino, people have preconceived thoughts of me. Most of the general public expects a lot from me, but these are not good expectations. Day after day, I am stereo-typed and expected to act some way or speak another. Unfortunately, in modern society, people do not think much of Latin Americans. Many believe that we are lazy or drug dealers or drop outs. People believe that because I am Dominican I am supposed to love platanos or that because I am Puerto-Rican I eat Goya beans all the time, or that just because I am Latino I speak Spanish. Fortunate enough for me, I acquired the knowledge of every single stereo-type I could think of at an early age. Living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a dominantly Caucasian neighborhood, I heard what people had to say about Hispanics. I experienced racism and ignorance all over whether it be at school or from neighbors. Learning that I was expected to be less than a civilized human being at a young age is something I am grateful for, because it taught me that I need to live above and beyond the stereotypes. Today, I am eighteen years old. I graduated from High School with an Advanced Regents Diploma, I am an upper freshman in college with a 3.8 average, I have been working since the age of fourteen and I have yet to be arrested or impregnate any females. I am more than satisfied with the person I have become today, thanks to my nationality.

           At times, I would have loved to give up. I would have loved to let loose and do what a lot of my other friends were doing, but I just couldn’t. The reason I stay out of trouble and try to be the best of the best at whatever I do is because every day I keep in the back of my mind that many people are expecting me to fail, expecting me to be arrested, expecting me to do something, and I refuse to be anything negative that people expect me to be and I will never become just another statistic.

          My economic status has also shaped the person I have become today. Many people think that because I live in Park Slope, my parents must be rich. Latinos owning a house in such a neighborhood is a dream for many, but although many think we have it good, we are far from rich. My family is a middle class family, my father is retired from the Army and is currently a photographer and graphic designer, my mother works for the Board of Education and myself, I work at C-Town Supermarket.  None of these jobs are the best paying jobs in the world, but they put the food on the table. My parents work hard day after day to provide for my family, keep the house they have purchased and enjoy some of the luxuries we are used to. There were times where my parents struggled to keep on the gas, the light and even keep the house in general. I have seen them work as hard as they could to keep us at the class where we are at just to keep my brother, my sister and I happy and healthy. This has shaped my personality in a way that I do not take anything for granted. I am grateful for everything I have, whether it was given to me or I worked for it. I work at a job that I despise for a mere $7.50 an hour, but I do it because my parents have shown me through example that you have to do what you have to do to survive. Despite the fact I live under my parents’ roof, I consider myself a man. I provide for myself, calling upon my parents as little as possible. Had it not been for the struggles I have seen my parents face in this dog eat dog economy, I would probably be another spoiled, lazy brat.

          On top of the economic struggles I have faced and the way my ethnicity affects my actions, another thing that has molded me into a strong individual is my illness. On February 25th, 2008, I was diagnosed with Type I, also known as Insulin Dependent or Juvenile, Diabetes. Till this day I still remember how I felt when I got the news. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I swore my life was over. I felt like I would not be able to do anything I had planned to do for myself ever again.  Fortunate for me, five days trapped in the four walls of a hospital room left me thinking.  Did I really want to give up? Can diabetes really stop me from succeeding? Upon my return to school and the real world, I was hit with the most powerful question I was ever asked. My 11th grade chemistry teacher asked me, “Do you have diabetes or does diabetes have you?” Along with the expectations people have of me based on my ethnicity, I learned to keep what people thought of me as a diabetic in my mind as well. I could not expect sympathy; diabetes could not kill me, unless I allowed it to. Since that time, I push myself as hard as possible. Many people believe that my diabetes would make me weak or hold me back from performing certain tasks, but Brandon Areizaga lives above any one’s expectations. Day by day, I push myself both mentally, at school and physically, at work and the gym. Many of my peers or co-workers watch me inject myself with insulin time to time and many of them say, “I don’t know how you do it. I think I would die.” Every time I hear those words I smile. Those words remind me that through every single day of my life I am overcoming obstacles many expect to be impossible. This is how my diabetes has shaped me.

           While my diabetes made me mentally stronger, my economic struggles made me more appreciative and my Latino background made me more tolerant; my sexual orientation has made me all of the above and more. I am bisexual; I like both men and women. I struggled with my sexuality for a real long time. I denied it to myself for a while; it was one of those things that I felt made me “handicapped” to society. When people would question my sexuality, I would become furious. However, in March of 2009, I owned up to my sexuality. Through sleepless nights and lonely days where I would sit and think to myself what life would be like if I “came out of the closet?” During that long period of thought I realized that I putting such great importance on sexual orientation made just as ignorant as those who stereotyped Latinos or believed the diabetic life style was impossible. I also realized, in the words of the great children’s author Dr. Seuss, “Those who matter won’t mind and those who mind don’t really matter.”

           Coming out was a great relief for me, but I experienced ignorance from everywhere. People judging my life style, people telling me that bisexuals do not exist, people telling me that I had to like one or the other and that I was just confused. There were times I would just want to run away and hide because it was unbearable, but I knew it was something I would have to face because I will never stop experiencing such ignorance and intolerance. My way of stepping up to the plate was writing a speech for my Senior English class on being bisexual. In said speech, I reported how much it hurt me to hold it inside and how difficult it was to let it out. I told people that I knew what I was getting myself into and that in a world full of hate and ignorance I might never stop dealing with criticism. As those words left my mouth, I felt my hard beating through my chest. I saw many jaws drop because many people had not discovered I was bisexual yet. After this speech, I was the talk of the school. Surprisingly, especially for a High School, it was good talk. People really felt what I had to say and were proud of me for standing up and owning my sexuality.

            My sexuality has had such a great impact on the person that I am today because it tested me in many different ways. It gave me the strength to deal with ignorance from all over. It helped me realize I should not get mad at what people say because people are always going to talk. It gave me the drive to keep going at anything I do. If my ethnicity, economic status and diabetes were the fingers that slowly shaped me into who I am today, my sexuality is the hands and I am proud of it.

            Everyone is made differently. No two people are exactly alike. For some reason, different things scare people. Not many individuals are opened minded and ready for change and their fear of that leads to ignorance, discrimination and hatred for one another. It takes an individual to own up to who they are and be proud of it because all of our characteristics have shaped us in some form. Sometimes individuals hide who they truly are to fit into society, but I, for one, have embraced my personality and have let my characteristics mold me into the person I am today. The idea of embracing who you are led me to write a poem, it was originally about sexuality, but I could also apply to any characteristic one may feel ashamed of. The poem says,

 

“Embrace who you are, we’re all made unique,

Don’t keep your traits hidden, this isn’t hide and seek.

Seems you’re a bit confused, I think it’s about time

You realize your reflection won’t show what’s inside.

You act so damn confident, but it’s clear you’re afraid.

Now look at the person your lies have made.

Your façade’s your affliction, a painful addiction

You go day to day mixing up fact and fiction.

Your tongue’s never bitten, so why start now?

You smother the real you inside, deep down.

Is it the truth you don’t want them to see?

Do you really want to make yourself what they expect you to be?

It seems so cliché, but we’re all one of a kind

& it’s those who truly matter, that really won’t mind.”

 

          I feel this poem relates to a lot of people because a lot of people are afraid to show the real them. However, in my story, I refuse to be fake. What some people consider a social handicap, I learned is a blessing. Every single thing about me, whether it be my race, economic status, health or sexual orientation, has molded me into somebody I have come to love. The unique parts of my personality have allowed me to open my mind and become what no other might expect from me. I would not be any one else and that should be the ending to every one’s story.

Brandon Areizaga

February 2010