Paola is a member of the NYCLU’s Teen Activist Project

This weekend I will join thousands of New Yorkers marching for women. 

I march to be a part of something larger than myself — to join a movement started by women like me and to feel a sense of community, love, and acceptance. 

I march so those who have hoarded power for too long will realize that we will not accept the fear and self-loathing they have inflicted on us.

I march so everyone knows I am proud of being a woman--a Latina woman--even though, when my adoptive parents brought me to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a 6-year-old, they taught me that I had to forget my identity and assimilate to be successful. The culture they expected me to absorb taught me that I was less valuable because I was a woman, that my curls and curves were something to feel ashamed of and to straighten out, and that my accent and native language were something to hide. 

I didn’t meet women who embraced their curls, their curves, and their identities until 2018, my junior year of high school. My friends’ example pushed me to think differently about myself. I remember talking to them while standing in front of the mirror, looking at my curls and my skin, and listening to my voice as it danced between languages. I felt proud for the first time. 

I stopped feeling ashamed and realized the forces that have shaped my life only give me strength. It’s a blessing to be a part of the female community, the immigrant community, and the foster care community because these experiences allowed me to discover and demonstrate my resolve, independence, and leadership abilities. I am no longer someone who will hide her identity to please others.

By marching, I hope to pass on my message of courage and strength. I hope my actions and my voice will encourage young girls to embrace their ethnic curls and their culture. I hope I will help them question the validity of the messages we hear that tell us assimilation is the only way to get ahead. 

This weekend I will march with my curls out and my accented voice loud. I hope girls around me will see strength and confident beauty and that I can help spread the culture of self-acceptance and love cultivated by strong women before me. 

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