My Fight for Freedom

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Push harder! Push harder! Push faster! Push onward! Keep pushing! These are a few of the phrases that I have heard throughout every crisis or turning point in my life. I know I have been blessed with people who have encouraged me to continue the fight when the path was filled with potholes and cracks.

I don’t believe I chose this warrior-like road but with every battle I become more armored than the battle before it. The first battle was so long ago that pinpointing the exact year would be futile. Some battles are more memorable than others. Perhaps the scars run deeper to remind me of the struggle.

Elementary school was a breeze. So what if I had several operations and lived half my grammar school years in a full body cast

? So what if I had more than 50 fractures before the age of 10. Physical pain? HA! I laugh at it! Bring it on!

Then, it happened. I entered 6th grade. My first year in a public school, mainstreamed with every able bodied boy and girl my age, in a different state. Culture shock? More like a reality check. The envious girls who were my “friends” decided I would be better off ostracized from my classmates. Supposedly, I was in the spotlight longer than they thought was appropriate for me. No ugly name calling. A simple code of silence quickly spread like an ugly rash. I kept pushing on with my head up high as directed by my two battlefield guides: my mom and my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Arcaini.

The peaceful years soon followed me throughout the rest of my education. There were occasional scratches but no scars. There was the time my 8th grade classmates and I went to a local museum when the guide shouted “Move out of the way, handicapped coming through!” My friends smiled at the woman’s ignorance and I shrugged my shoulders to acknowledge that this was a part of my life.

So what if a woman said handicapped? At least she was acknowledging me right? The University of Miami didn’t even give me that common courtesy. No bathrooms. No access to classrooms. Legal battles erupted. Equality, recognition, and respect became my war terms. Just like G.W. Bush, I worked “hard” even on Saturdays to win this major battle against the insurgents we commonly call bureaucracy.

A victory prevailed. No medals, no parade, nothing but the satisfaction that students with disabilities were free from the oppression of physical barriers at the University of Miami. Scars continue to run deep even after the war. Constant pain aches throughout my bones and my breathing is heavier and laborious on a daily basis. But I keep pushing on.

I pushed my way into a permanent teaching position by jumping through hoops trying to prove to the able bodied world that a short stature wheelchair pushing person can educate the minds of young teens but not until I educated the minds of educators. The deepest cut comes from the least expected. How can educators who are preaching to their students about tolerance and equality not accept a teacher with a disability? Far fetched story? Not really. Yet, every year I face a new army of soldiers in their teens ready to test my ability and leadership skills. Every year I earn another stripe for victory.

Some day there will be a veteran’s day for the many thousands and thousands of people like me who choose to fight for our own freedom. Until then, chin up and push on!