Southwest Airlines is proud to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month all year long through our support of impactful organizations like MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana. Guest author Rohnny Vallarta shares her story below.
I remember when I was first invited to perform at the 19th Annual Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam Festival (BNV). It was going to take place in Washington, D. C., and all I could think was “That’s where the White House is at!” My name is Rohnny Vallarta. I am 16 years old, Mexican-American, and the only girl from our slam poetry team at MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, located in downtown San Jose, CA, invited to attend Brave New Voices.
On our way to the Southwest terminal, I felt a bit uneasy about the trip. It was my first time in an airplane and traveling out of the state. My mother made me even more nervous when she said, “I’ve never been this far away from you ... ” It made me realize I wouldn’t be home the whole week! While we boarded the airplane, I thought I would relax, but it was just the opposite.
I am the youngest sibling in my family, as well as the only girl. My hobbies include poetry, writing songs, and playing the ukulele. My family is musically inclined; both my brothers play the keyboard and guitar. My parents love music and take me to local music festivals. You can always hear someone singing or playing music in my house.
And until this trip, I never thought about flying. All of my family members live within a driving distance. I never thought that I’d have a reason to travel across the country.
When the plane took off, the feelings of uneasiness slowly left. The Southwest staff was friendly, and their smiling faces allowed me to relax. I got excited about my trip to Washington D. C. The views from the plane were amazing; you could see everything, and it felt like a dream. When we landed, I couldn’t believe we had really traveled across the entire country!
After landing, we checked into our dorm rooms at George Washington University. I was thrilled to see so many youth who share a passion for poetry. All of the students were supportive of each other’s work. This made me feel comfortable to share my poetry. Even though I was nervous about opening up about myself, it was inspiring to see others overcome their fears too. My poem was about my upbringing, the challenges I’ve faced as a girl, and my future opportunities.
My favorite part of the festival was that everyone wanted to share their poems! Students shared stories that enlightened me and inspired me to learn about bigger issues that impact youth. Students shared poems that dealt with issues like racism, sexism, health, and gender inequality. The workshops taught me how to improve my writing skills, how to convey a clear message, and how to serve as a community leader with my poetry. I can create poetry and spark a dialogue about a specific issue that is important in my community. I have started working on a poem about Type 2 Diabetes and how the junk food we eat is impacting our health.
Overall, going to Washington, D. C., was an awesome opportunity. Meeting other youth and being encouraged to express my opinions was enlightening. Every performer, guest speaker, and coach inspired me to write more and to share my voice. Thank you to Southwest Airlines and MACLA for giving me the opportunity to dream big and be a part of something bigger than I have ever imagined.