Wednesday, May 12, 2021
‘I Knew I Belonged’-From the Pens of Two Valley Youth
Jaime Avila
Tuesday, April 13, 2021


Eduardo Escalera-Ramirez found a place of belonging on the Wood River High School Cheer Squad, overcoming his initial hesitancy about being Latinx and male.

Jaime Avila knew he belonged when he became the first person of color to be elected vice president of the student body at WRHS and he saw Kamala Harris raise her arms in triumph after being the first woman of color elected Vice President of the United States.

Both young men have won first place in the inaugural “That Time I Knew I Belonged” writing competition for their thoughtful essays. Both will get $500 for their first-place awards. They also will be honored at a reception at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 28, on the lawn of the SVMoA’s Hailey classroom.

Eduardo Escalera-Ramirez

Joanna Castillo and Lydia Morgan will get $250 for their second-place entries. Honorable mention awards, which amount to $100, go to Molly Doyle, Kieran Heywood, Emma Desserault, Flor Vazquez, Karen Inga, Leighton Garcia and Mariyah Cueva.

The competition was hosted by The Alliance of Idaho and Sun Valley Museum of Art.

“Our organizations share a commitment to building vibrant and just communities. Both art and activism help repair the world,” said Sarah Sentilles, executive director of The Alliance of Idaho.

“It is inspiring to hear these students express themselves with such integrity and honesty,” added Kristin Poole, artistic director of SVMoA. “For the Alliance and SVMoA to be able to honor them and give them a tiny boost on their journey is the definition of ‘community.’ ” 

The two organizations plan to hold the competition again next year.

Here are the two winning essays (Eduardo’s is in Spanish, as well):


    Autumn brought a significant change for our country, as well as one for our high school. Newly elected Vice-President Kamala Harris became the first woman of color elected to that position in our country’s history, and I became the first person of color to be elected Vice President of the student body at Wood River High School. On election day, both of us knew that we truly belonged. In Kamala’s case to the citizens of our country, and in my case, to the diverse student body of Wood River High School.

    As a first-generation college aspirant, I realize now that I belong. I want others like me to feel the same way. In a speech given by Madam Vice President, delivered at the Spelman College chapel on October 26th, 2018, she quotes her mother as saying “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” Kamala’s mother was advising her to be both a path builder, and a role model at the same time.

    My election advisers, both Anglos and Hispanics, gave me ideas on how to promote the diversity of the student body, to make all students feel included. Through my campaign, I expressed my support for inclusion groups like Nosotros United, and the Key Club. My campaign slogan was “Born to Lead'', but in reality, I was not really born to lead. I learned this valuable skill by working alongside my father.

    Just like Madam Vice President’s mother, my father has taught me how to be inclusive. At work my father treats everyone the same. Through my election, I have proven to be a path builder, and my challenge will be to inspire others who may want to travel a similar path in my footsteps. In the movie filmed in Preston, Idaho, “Napoleon Dynamite,” Napoleon the main character, is ostracized at school because he is the stereotypical “weird” boy. He finds a new friend, Pedro, who is also excluded but for a different reason--he is Mexican and culturally does not fit in. They become best friends after Napoleon stands up for Pedro who was relentlessly bullied by the Anglo students.

    Likewise, feeling like belonging in our school has not always been easy for some students, especially for the students with lower “popularity” status. More specifically, for people of color similar to me. But that is beginning to change because the school is becoming more racially balanced. In fact, Hispanics currently make up almost half the student body (48%). When my good friend Daisy Vargas, who graduated in 2016, heard that I was elected vice president, she was ecstatic, saying that she was happy to hear that the Hispanic students were finally being accepted as equals.

    Winning the vice presidency has not only made me feel like I belong, but it also has welcomed diversity into our school, and has fostered new friendships among students. My new friend Griff is an example. He was also elected to a leadership position and, working together, we have discovered that we have more things in common than we don’t.

    President Franklin D Roosevelt once said “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” Through my election, I have shown that standing still is not an option for me. This idea was reinforced when my cousin Pollo said to me recently, “I am glad we are teammates on the soccer field but, most importantly, I am glad we are family.” I understand that I am a role model for him, and I take that very seriously. By leading in school and on the soccer field, I am hopeful that a student far younger than me, someone I may not even know, will be inspired to follow in my footsteps.


As a LatinX male, walking out on the floor of Wood River High School gym in my freshly pressed cheer uniform, I noticed all the eyes peering at me. I have always struggled to find a place where I truly felt comfortable and accepted as a LatinX male.

Due to my heritage as a Mexican-American, I know the bitter taste of discrimination because my family and I have experienced it firsthand. We experience situations and are called racial slurs when others are not because of a social construct set by society. I have dealt with prejudiced people that judge me based on the way that I look. People have assumed I do not speak English based upon my appearance.

We are all people, and we should be treated as such. We may be treated equally but what we truly want is to be treated equitably. When I was first approached by my track and field coach towards the end of my eighth-grade year, he asked if I was interested in joining the WRHS Cheer team. I was hesitant and nervous at the fact that I have never seen any male cheerleaders on T.V. or in any capacity really. When coach Kaminski asked me to consider joining cheer it made me feel included but I also had my reservations.

I was afraid that if I joined I would feel left out because of my gender and/or ethnicity. I decided to try out anyway because I wanted to leave a legacy behind and pave the road for other boys and minorities to feel comfortable joining a sport that is generally seen as a female exclusive sport. It is important to me to be a positive influence on my community and be a representative for other LatinX members, as well as males, who can feel comfortable trying something new.

After mustering the courage to join the team, with the first practice around the corner, I was petrified to be the only LatinX member on the team, surrounded by Anglos. To my surprise and utter joy, I was relieved when I entered the gym and realized that more than half of the team was of LatinX descent. I never thought that this was the beginning of a crucial chapter of my life in which I felt that myself and my community were starting to be recognized. I felt comfortable knowing that I was not the only LatinX member in the group and that I could seek advice from my team members without being judged.

Cheerleading has helped me to strengthen relationships. One of my goals for high school was to leave a legacy to impact future generations. I know I have achieved this goal because males, especially LatinX males can look at me and see representation in cheerleading. In my sophomore year of cheer, I was happy to learn that another male had also made the team. Cheer is my home away from home and I want to share this experience with everyone.

I began to see the stigma that cheer was only for girls fade away. The invisible glass ceiling has disappeared allowing the cheer team to consist of mainly LatinX members and two males. Even though in cheer we have come so far in acceptance we still have discrimination and microaggressions that we have to endure. For example, in my Freshman year of cheer, many of us were told not to speak in Spanish because some could not understand. This made me disappointed that we were discouraged from speaking our native language which has been one of the reasons I felt like I belonged in cheer. We LatinX members are still marginalized.

Although my school and community still have a long way to reach an equitable place where everyone feels they belong, I truly believe that cheer has been one of the best experiences I have had to this day. I hope to continue doing this sport and giving others the courage to join in on the fun. Cheer has been my home for the past three years and my hope for other students is that they can find a sport, club, or hobby where they can feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging.


"Aquella vez que supe que pertenecía" Por: Eduardo Escalera-Ramírez

Como joven Latino, me dirigía caminando por el gimnasio de la Escuela Secundaria de Wood River con mi uniforme de porrista recién planchado y me di cuenta que todos me observaban. Siempre he luchado por encontrar un lugar en el que me sintiera realmente cómodo y aceptado como joven latino. Debido a mi herencia como mexicano-americano, conozco el sabor amargo de la discriminación porque mi familia y yo lo hemos experimentado de primera mano. Hemos vivido situaciones no muy gratas y nos han llamado con insultos raciales; cuando otros no lo hacen debido a una construcción social establecida por la sociedad. He tratado con personas prejuiciosas que me juzgan por mi aspecto. La gente ha asumido que no hablo inglés basándose en mi apariencia.

Todos somos personas y debemos ser tratados como tales. Quizás somos tratados por igual, pero lo que realmente queremos es ser tratados de forma igualitaria. Cuando mi entrenador de atletismo se dirigió a mí por primera vez hacia el final de mi octavo grado, me preguntó si estaba interesada en unirme al equipo de porristas de WRHS. Estaba indeciso y nervioso por el hecho de que nunca había visto a ningún porrista masculino en la televisión o en cualquier otra función de este deporte. Cuando el entrenador me pidió que considerara unirme a las porristas me hizo sentir incluido pero también tenía mis dudas. Tenía miedo de unirme al grupo y que pudiera sentirme excluido debido a mi género y/o etnia. Decidí probar de todos modos porque quería dejar un legado y abrir el camino para que otros chicos y minorías se sintieran cómodos, uniéndose a un deporte que generalmente se ve como un deporte exclusivo para mujeres. Para mí es importante ser una influencia positiva en mi comunidad y representar a otros miembros masculinos de la comunidad Latina, para que puedan sentirse confortables probando algo nuevo.

Después de reunir el valor para unirme al equipo, con la primera práctica a la vuelta de la esquina, estaba petrificado por ser el único miembro masculino Latino en el equipo, rodeado de anglos. Para mi sorpresa y total alegría, me sentí aliviado cuando entré en el gimnasio y me di cuenta de que más de la mitad del equipo era de descendencia Latina. Nunca pensé que este fuera el comienzo de un capítulo crucial en mi vida en el que sentía que yo y mi comunidad empezábamos a ser reconocidos. Me sentí cómodo sabiendo que no era el único miembro Latino del grupo y que podía pedir consejos a los miembros de mi equipo sin ser juzgado. Ser porrista me ha ayudado a fortalecer mis conecciones con los demás. Uno de mis objetivos en la escuela secundaria era dejar un legado para impactar a las generaciones futuras y sé que lo he logrado, porque los hombres, especialmente los hombres Latinos, pueden mirarme y ver la representación en mi como porrista.

En mi segundo año como porrista, me alegró saber que otro joven del sexo masculine, también, había entrado en el equipo. A este grupo de porristas los siento como si fueran mi hogar lejos de casa y quiero compartir esta experiencia con todos. Empecé a ver cómo se desvanecía el estigma de que ser porrista era sólo para chicas. El techo de cristal invisible ha desaparecido, lo que ha permitidoque el equipo de porristas esté formado principalmente por miembros latinos y dos hombres. Aunque, en el equipo de porristas hemos llegado lejos en la aceptación del público, todavía tenemos que soportar discriminación y microagresiones. Por ejemplo, en mi primer año de animación, a muchos de nosotros nos dijeron que no habláramos en español porque algunos no podían entenderlo. Esto me decepcionó porque nos desalentaron por hablar en nuestra lengua materna, lo cual ha sido una de las razones por las que me sentí que pertenecía a las porristas.

Los miembros Latinos seguimos siendo marginados. Aunque mi escuela y mi comunidad todavía tienen un largo camino para llegar a un lugar equitativo donde todos se sientan incluidos, realmente creo que ser porrista ha sido una de las mejores experiencias que he tenido hasta el día de hoy. Espero seguir practicando este deporte y dar a otros el valor de unirse a él. Las porristas han sido mi hogar durante los últimos tres años y tengo la esperanza que otros estudiantes puedan encontrar un deporte, club o pasatiempo donde puedan sentirse cómodos y tener un sentido de pertenencia.


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