Sharon Balsamo recommended Sophia to participate here and Ashlee Davis was singing her praises, too. I am so grateful to them because I really love these opportunities to chat with the younger folks. I don't have the fondest of memories from my high school days and seem to be forgetting more and more of them as those drift further and further back in time, so it was great to chat with Sophia about some of the stuff she's going through.
What really struck me as we chatted is that the things that are bothering her in her peer group pretty much mirror what is bothering me in mine. I suppose as the years go by we have more and more opportunities to grow empathy and compassion and evolve for the better, but it doesn't necessarily mean we take advantage of those chances. Is it so simple as that? Some do. Some don't. I guess I tend to believe that it's more complicated. At any rate, if Sophia at 15 is any indicator of future Sophia, she seems to be on the right track.
SE: I am Sophia Ermisch. I am a Mexican-American teenager living in Bend, Oregon.
ACT: How do you feel about things these days? What's your take on the state of the world or the nation? What does it look like through your eyes?
SE: Currently the abortion rights are a big part in American debates. That's what I'm thinking about when I'm thinking about our nation. It's a hard topic for me to think about especially because if I think about it too much I just get really confused and disoriented. It's the same with the state of the world - a lot of the things that happen, they break my heart, but I just can't dwell on it or else I would just be a broken person.
ACT: What concerns you? What affects you personally? And what motivates you to do something about it?
SE: My main focuses that I want to dedicate my time and effort to is global warming and our Earth because I'm just kind of a nature freak. And coming from Latin roots, I really do care about everything that's going on at the border. That's kinda what's bothering me more these days is what our country's doing to those people.
And also just my peers. A lot of the time it's hard for me to connect with other people because they just don't really view the world as I do. Being from Latin roots and I've always traveled since I was little, I think how I view the world is just different from people. It's hard to really get empowered when I don't have that many people to get empowered with that are my age. And people older than me tend to just kinda see me as just a teenager. They see me as my age and not as a person.
ACT: We have so much in common, but we tend to focus on our differences. What do we do about that?
SE: I really try to view something we don't agree on from their perspective. I try. It doesn't always work out, but I try. I think that also brings me a lot of patience with people. I try to shrug it off when someone says an opinion that I don't agree with. I don't spend my energy on trying to fight it or trying to change their view.
ACT: What are you spending your energy on?
SE: Myself and the people I love, obviously, and my little pets. Just things that I care about and topics that I care about that I know need energy, especially if they're lacking it. Friends and family and I say myself because Sharon has really taught me to put myself first in a way. So, I've really been putting myself first and that makes me able to give to other people.
ACT: What does it mean to be in community with others who may have different agendas than yours?
SE: I lived a year in Argentina when I was little and I lived six months in France. France was a frustrating time for me because they were really different. I was eleven and twelve. It was an interesting time in my life and it taught me to be more accepting of how people are and not try to dwell on it as much. Not try to overthink what people say.
There's horrible people out there, but they all come from a human standpoint and they all suffer like we do. Just to view my world and my community and my nation and my school as individuals and people with their own problems and their own victories in life. And just focus on myself and my life and what I choose to do with my life.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose?
SE: I try. A lot of the time it can be lost and I feel like why am I even here? Not in a really dark way, but why am I doing this math problem right now? Or why am I reading this book that I dislike? On the topic of school, it can be frustrating - the purpose of this and why am I doing this and why am I fighting so hard for my grades when eventually I'll die? Sometimes I just think and it gets a little intense and I'm like, Everything's gonna die. But that's the darker days.
On my brighter days where I'm feeling positive, I think my purpose... My mom always said that there's givers and there's takers. My mom has always said that me and my sisters are givers. So, I take that as a strong point in my life and I try to give as much as I can and show people better ways. I'm not saying I'm the next Buddha. I'm not trying to be some religious figure. I just try 'cause making other people happy always make happy. So, that's usually what I go for.
ACT: What gives you hope? What kind of examples are in front of you?
SE: What gives me hope is my sisters. I have two older sisters. One's a sophomore in college and the other one already graduated college and she's working in San Francisco. They have always been figures in my life that I looked up to a lot. Knowing that they've been through some similar stuff that I've been through and seeing them still succeed, seeing that they're pushing through hard times, is really empowering and gives me a lot of hope. They always encourage me. On my darker days, they always give me hope and they've been really influential on my life.
ACT: What's something that you wish was different in your school environment?
SE: People not realizing that they aren't better or any different than most of the people in the school. That's what a lot of people don't think about when they are rude to others or call others names or harass them in general. They don't think they are equal. They always will be equal to anyone they interact with - I think that's probably what I would switch on in their minds. That's a world problem, in general. Knowing that they themselves have worth, as well.
ACT: What are you most looking forward to in the near future?
SE: Being independent and being able to do my own thing. And being able to get away from things that I'm kinda stuck with, you know, being a minor. I love my parents, but... it's always nice to get away. Being in a small town my whole life and being with kinda the same people a lot, sometimes I just wish I was able to explore by myself. And just following my path and what I'm supposed to be doing in life.