Aleah Cordoba: Travel Access Grant Recipient


It’s the final week of August and we are pleased to send it off with an introduction and congratulations to Aleah Cordoba for being chosen as a member of the first cohort of TAP grant recipients!

Aleah Cordoba

Recently, I discovered that when I was three years old, for uncertain reasons, my mother sent me on an airplane with my uncle, Iraam, to Mexico. There, I lived in my grandmother’s home for 5 months. By the time I got back, I didn’t know a word of English. Not a word. This explains a lot about me. How disconnected I feel sometimes from my home, Colorado Springs, like I wasn’t even born and raised there. How instinctively I understand Spanish, especially when my family is speaking, though my own lips can barely articulate a few familial phrases. How strongly I identify with my Latina roots and the heritage that resides in Aguascalientes, where my grandmother’s house is, with it’s stucco walls, orange trees, wrought iron gates, Birds of Paradise flowers and little pieces of shiny sharp glass protectively sticking out of
the top of the courtyard walls.

Moreover, it explains my innate understanding of cultural differences that both suffocate our world and bring it to life, passionately, vivaciously, beautifully. Everything about me, resides in those 5 months that I don’t remember consciously. All following visits to that house would be haunted by ghostly memories of those 5 months, random Spanish words and phrases that I didn’t know I knew would seep back
to me, when I’d find the smell of the laundry room somewhere else I would be flooded with nostalgia, and last winter during my grandmother’s funeral I realized starkly that it would never be quite the same there.

It’s so hard for me to write a bio because though I feel so strongly that my life began somewhere between those stucco walls and behind the wrought iron gate, bathing in a metal bucket in hose water, it technically began in Colorado Springs, Colorado; with my mom, my step-dad, my older sister and my younger brother. Sometimes I still don’t believe it. I guess if we are psychoanalyzing, it’s probably because a significant part of my major developmental years (between the ages 1 and 5) were spent in Mexico. I’ve always felt so intimately tied to my Mexican heritage, and I realize now why. Where the creeping memories of my grandmother’s tortillas, strange yummy smells, and clothes hanging breezily on a line atop a rooftop come from.

My other life, the one in Colorado Springs I mean, has been a simple one. I had a best friend and next door neighbor who probably taught me English again when I returned from Mexico. She also taught me to be creative and artistic and positive and adventurous. I never have forgotten and I owe a lot of my successes and happiness in life to her. I had incredible traveling opportunities. In between the ages of 9 and 12, I went to New York, India, London, and Mexico again. These, especially India, really shaped my understanding of the world, taught me how to be open and appreciative of the diversity of humanity.

I have always been a total learning addict. This and a little competitiveness, I discovered, was all I needed to excel in school (unless it was grammar). Middle school was spent reading Harry Potter, biking to horseback riding lessons, and moving up math classes.

High school was a quite the adjustment from my 8th grade graduating class of eleven to a school of 3,000 students, but no bigger culture shock than India, so I took the change in stride. I spent the next 4 years juggling my 7-period International Baccalaureate Honors schedule, three clubs, volunteer work, my social life, my job, and my family life. It was hard. I graduating top 3% in my class, was voted by the teachers for the IB Learner Profile Scholarship, and wore my Honors Chord, my Rotary Chord, and my IB Sash during graduation. I even got to make a little speech to my IB class. But I was drained. I knew that my inability to say no and my lack of time management had shed a few years off my life. I’d wake up at 3 am to finish essays, because I only got home at 9 pm the night before after Climbing Club and work, and then I would eat dinner and pass out. I’d pull all nighters, and even got sleep paralysis one night from a combination of stress and an irregular sleep schedule (that’s when your eyes are open but your mind and body are dreaming so you can’t move). I started having lapses in my memory and was feeling a little crazy. Senior year was a nightmare. Between applying to 9 colleges and universities, taking a second job, my grandmother’s death, going on rock climbing trips, writing my speech, and IB Exams, I was drowning. Totally drowning. Summer came like a breath of sunny air in my lungs. I caught up on sleep, deferred from Smith College, started a second and then a third job, and began planning the only thing I was capable of comprehending in the near future, my gap year.

Last week, my gap year began. The necessity of a year off — though an academic break it is my be no stretch of the imagination a learning break — could not be overstated. And as far as I’m concerned, this culmination of confusion, success, and strife, leading up to an epic and well-planned gap year, this culmination that is wholly me and wholly my life, began in one place, and one place only – those 5 months in Mexico when I was three.

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