Spring 2018: "Letters of Hope" Powerful Voice Winner Malena Vargas Sáez

Read Malena's essay, "The Righteous Path of María the Sage," a letter to her grandmother that seeks to harness her strength and resilience in order to overcome today's corrupt and turbulent times.
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Malena Vargas Sáez, an eleventh-grade student of Guillermo Morejón Flores at The Episcopal Cathedral School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, "Love Letters to the Resistance" by Aura Bogado.

Writing Prompt: Think about what matters most to you about our country’s future. Write a letter to someone important to you, describing that future you imagine and hope for.


Querida María:

I have so much to thank you for. I would like to start with thanking you for your ever-growing understanding and receptivity to this changing world. I thank you for confronting all the adversities that came your way throughout your life, and for every tear you held back for your young siblings, your children, and their children. Thank you for your unbreakable will despite the crack of patriarchy’s whip. For swallowing your pride for not finishing school and for becoming a strong and loving figure for your siblings and your children at home, even if it cost you getting judged by people who would not have done the same. And I begin with all this gratitude because we, the world, are in need of individuals like you—more Marías.

Inside that cement house, nestled high up in the rural mountains in the heart of Borinquen, your parents, aware of it or not, admired President Woodrow Wilson as he signed a law in 1917 that finally made us citizens of a powerful nation. Thanks to Luis Muñoz Marín and his negotiations with the United States, you got your first good pair of shoes—shoes that would hop on rocks and cross the river on your way to the only school in town. And don’t forget that moment your tongue discovered the taste of peanut butter the first day American food was served in the school cafeteria. What an experience!

Remember how you would put all these honorable men on a pedestal, like your favorite wooden saint or porcelain Baby Jesus? But, to ponder the possibility that those political figures were corrupt, while most people could not access decent education, was terrifying! It was because of this that you forbade your children and husband, even the cousins and tíos and tías who came to visit, from ever speaking politics and religion at the dinner table, or anywhere within your hearing range. It is like putting water and a computer together—things just will not end well, you would always tell yourself.

You had given up on these lying puppets when Pedro Rosselló demanded a place on your pedestals. He was followed by four governors and his son Ricardo, our current governor, who stood at the end of the line. And to top it off, Mr. Donal Trom, a magnet for controversy, walked right through the door, demanding a pedestal of his own.

And María, your waking up at 4 a.m. just to make sure the house was holding up in the face of three straight days of the hurricane was simply incredible. Holding back your anger while being thrown paper towels by the “president” of the United States instead of medications and meals for your frail husband takes unbelievable strength. One might even say you live up to your hurricane namesake. Woman, how do you do it?

Tell me, what is your secret? We are watching how this government makes education unaffordable and inaccessible; watching our honorable teachers get fired while the news exposes what ridiculously large salaries new and old secretaries and assessors make. They make protests look bad, and even spew on social media that demonstrations waste their time and that we are being inconsiderate toward drivers and tourists. María, you have every reason to lose hope!

In a country where powerful figures lead us to hate our differences, you accept every race, age, gender, and sexual orientation with love and respect. In a community that is divided and riddled with the holes of ever-growing violence, you do your best to keep our family together and on good terms. María, it is like you swim against the tide, but you do not seem to mind. Is it something that comes with age? Does this radical hope come with being a mother, a grandmother, a good neighbor, a hardworking woman? Is this the true definition of being human?

I am running out of words, and I am still filled with questions and doubts, but I am hoping your memory, our origins, will guide us all through these turbulent and dangerous times. You, like so many Marías, deserve to be on that pedestal in the living room instead.

With admiration from your granddaughter,



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