The Storyteller

Senior+Oziel+Valdez+found+himself+through+the+struggles+of+high+school+and+looks+towards+his+future+and+what+it+holds.+

Oziel Valdez

Senior Oziel Valdez found himself through the struggles of high school and looks towards his future and what it holds.

“Imagine the hundreds of stories we’ll create,” Valdez said. “I took that upon myself to create hundreds of stories and [to be the reason for] why I do all that I do.”

A quote taken from the Broadway musical “In the Heights,” senior Oziel Valdez found a complicated meaning in a simple line. The struggles of high school, felt by many, came in a more difficult and challenging way to Valdez through his years. However, as he grew, Valdez found the strength to change his story and the way he wanted it to be told. As he pushes through his fourth and final year of high school, Valdez reflects on his past years, the future and where he began.

“My relationship with my parents growing up has been kind of distant, I am not very social with my parents. Only very recently have I talked to them and had meaningful conversations. I only interacted with them when I needed to but other than that I kept to myself and so did my parents,” Valdez said.

Valdez found the COVID-19 quarantine created a time for him to reveal more about his life and connect more with his parents.

“I had hidden my personal life from my parents a lot because I really don’t want my parents to know what my life is like. The way I am at home is very very different from the way I am at school or with friends. When I’m at school, I don’t stop talking and when I’m at home it’s very hard for me to talk,” Valdez said. “During this pandemic, something that happened was that I came out to my parents. They knew a lot more about my personal life and they knew that I was gay now. There’s been a lot more vocal interaction between us and a lot more understanding and a lot more compassion.”

By reaching a clarity about himself and what he wanted, Valdez was able to communicate to his parents and share his story.

“I explained to them that I am gay and I am very comfortable with myself,” Valdez said. “I told them ‘I don’t care if you like it, I don’t care if you love it. All I need you to be is just my parents.”

Although their connection took time to form, to Valdez and his parents, family is everything. Through their migration to the United States from El Salvador, Valdez’s parents know what it means to work hard and care for those around them.

“My parents were both born and raised in El Salvador and in super strict Catholic households. It tore up a lot of family relationships and caused a lot of family drama. Both of my parents realized that that’s not what they wanted and the only way they could get away from that would be leaving El Salvador,” Valdez said. “Everything they’ve worked for and everything they’ve done is for the betterment of my siblings and my entire family. My parents never attended college, the last education they went through was middle school in El Salvador and after [that], they went to go work in the fields. Their main priority is to give me and my siblings the best life we can [have]. So if that involves us living in a crowded house for four years then that is what it involves, but it is for the better of all of us.”

The lessons Valdez has learned from his parents show an aspect of growth and opportunity that he hopes to take into his future.

“Something I take from my parents is supporting their children and if I have children I would want to support them [in that way] because children go through a lot. Especially if your parents are immigrants who cannot speak English,” Valdez said. “I want to pass down that loving family aspect and I want to pass down my family history. [The story] is very interesting about where my parents came from and how we got to where we are. And despite my parents only graduating middle school, I can in fact go to college and I have applied and that’s the plan I am [following]. Even though my parents were not the most educated, that does not hold me back and I want to show that to my children if I have them.”

Although the experiences Valdez went through encouraged a change in lifestyle and a newfound confidence, the difficult experiences first had to be had.

“You can’t find yourself when you are surrounded by such bad people, people who constantly beat you down,” Valdez said of some friends he once surrounded himself with. “One night we were in a room and everybody left. One of these people tried to rape me. It was something horrible. Whenever anything like that happens, you always think ‘I’m going to stop it. I’m going to say no’. In the moment, I froze and the only reason it stopped was because people walked in.”

Valdez recognized that while it was possible to recover alone, it was easier to have help.

“It’s really hard because when you’re young, you want to keep things to yourself and not talk to an adult, but you don’t realize other people go through the same things you do or similar things. I think that’s the hardest thing for young people in high school to realize. You’re not alone and adults are not scary, you can talk to an adult. That’s really what I’ve learned through all of my experiences,” Valdez said.

From such negative encounters, Valdez was able to observe positive changes in his life and how he continues to live it.

“Everything that has happened to me in high school has really led me to just not care about what people think anymore and that’s really drastically affected my life. I was insecure starting high school and now I’m still insecure, but I’ve grown to just not care and that’s really changed a lot about my mentality and how I deal with things,” Valdez said.

Although Valdez has experienced defining moments in his life, he also has matured through simply growing up.

“Because I grew up, my friendships with people grew, too. Not because of bad things that happened, but just everybody growing up and becoming more mature has really shaped a lot of our friendships differently and the way I talk to people and the way they talk to me. I think that’s a really positive experience that just comes from growing up.”

Valdez finds the importance of not only telling his own story but listening and learning from the stories of others.

“My ideal future would be being happy telling stories. That’s all I want in my future is to be happy and tell stories, whatever that is, I don’t care. I just want to be able to do that,” Valdez said. “I also want people to keep reading stories. I feel like we all focus on ourselves a lot and just reading something and putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes is really important to help understand where people come from because nobody is the same, not even close.”

By telling other people’s stories Valdez hopes to show there is value in each person’s journey.

“It’s really important to tell stories because we’re all different no matter how similar you think you are, there’s something always different about your experiences and your mindset. Lately, I think people have been ignoring that other people are humans and that other people go through experiences that change what they think and who they trust. I think that listening to those stories and realizing there are so many different people who experience things that you’ll never experience and that you can learn from that and you can grow from that and you can realize how to interact with other people and how to understand other people and where they come from.

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