39 Reasons: I got my tongue pierced


She looks tough, strong-willed, determined,

She has this depth in her eyes that can teach you something if you’re willing to learn

I am standing across from her in the school parking lot, grey, and almost invisible against typical Vancouver skies on an otherwise warm day

It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other

She looks at me and suddenly sticks her tongue out

A new piercing

“My parents are gonna kill me” she says, “but my friends and I love it!”

“It goes against our culture, but what am I supposed to do, we moved here!”

She’s been in and out of school and precarious employment trying to prove that she is the smart and capable young woman that we know she is

I know this in the way she speaks about the sacrifices her parents made and the hopes she has for her sisters

She explains in her usual deep and playful voice that’s muffled with this new metal in her mouth, “They moved us across the world so we could have a better life”

I know she’s serious when she walks into our girls-only sports group at the community center after school

She is one among a wall of her girlfriends dressed in a vibrant mix of long skirts, skinny jeans and denim jackets

What I can’t see through her tough exterior and excitement of her new piercing, is her struggle with learning that has gone un-noticed, she mixes up letters when reading and writing that I can only notice when I’m working beside her

This struggle is masked by her learning a new language, her assumed lack of seriousness to learn given her attendance, and her love of shopping and hanging with friends that like her new piercing, is a part of her efforts to build acceptance and belonging

As an adult, she remains on the fringe with limited access to the basic supports including the results of an assessment to accurately name her learning challenge, counselling, and literacy that could help her with education completion, transportation, secure housing, assertiveness to ask questions, read employment standards and fulfill her pursuit of for belonging and success

I’m back in that parking lot wondering how many brilliant minds and hearts we’ve written off because the class is too big to be noticed, because the line-up for support services is too long, because the assumptions we choose to make as adults can be so harmful to the life of a young person

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