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Honorable mention — Persons of color essay contest: Jessie Garcia

This nonbeliever believes in this writing

By Jessie Garcia

I have always considered myself to be very self-aware/conscious. This meant I would, and still do, often question the reason behind my own motives and behaviors and, of course, that of other people and situations. Because of this hyperawareness, I had doubts about the faith I had been exposed to and influenced to follow when unpleasant situations arose: Why is God letting this happen? What kind of plan does God have for me/others that he is making me/them experience this? Is God really allowing this to happen?

Having been brought up hearing constantly that doubting God was a sin in itself, that God could “hear” all of our most inner thoughts and feelings, I was terrorized by my own thoughts. The following thought of what the consequences of my questions — my ability to make questions that had been granted to me by God himself, “creator of all” — in the afterlife led to it being most likely in hell since I had “sinned.” To this day, that remains a consequence and concept I cannot believe a young teenager felt so burdened by.

Because my doubt and related fears did not stop, I came to conclude sometime during my freshman year of high school that I was wasting my conscience on something that I just could not believe. There will always be things that cannot be explained or understood and in addition to coming to terms with that idea, I also needed to realize that I had a right to live as I felt was most comfortable to me: living off my own morals, not defined by a book or what others told me, and doing and believing what I felt I should. Simply put, it made more sense to quit fearing something that had little verifiable presence in my life and to, instead, immerse my energy in to becoming more open minded to other concepts and gain more knowledge.

Being nonreligious has comforted me more than the idea that there was one being “watching over me,” which I never felt. Being nonreligious meant that I could live the way I believed to be best, without feeling like I had to meet standards that I did not understand, fully believe in, or completely disagreed with, and that were set by others. Being nonreligious has allowed me to be more self-driven and has allowed me to stop blaming unfavorable outcomes on something I cannot see and to be responsible, be persistent and be determined to achieve what I want and need to live a more fulfilling life.

Being Mexican, on the other hand, and living in a colored community composed largely of other Hispanics, I have realized how big a role religion plays in culture. It appears untouched almost, even as many have left their original communities and crossed over into a country of many, they maintain their religious practices and beliefs. Consequently, a lot of these older

Jessie Garcia

individuals pass these beliefs onto the youth and when a doubting or nonbelieving individual appears, said individual is looked down upon, dismissed, labeled as “confused,” and faced with other similar behavior by believing members of the community. For this reason, I consider encouragement the most effective form of engaging people of color into the secular community. It’s probable that a good majority of doubting individuals of color who have been brought up a certain religion/faith are scared of admitting or even just talking about their thoughts. The disregard, disappointment, or even “treatments” that can be sought after for the individuals to be “enlightened” are just a few of the possible consequences that can keep them from finding the answers, resources, and communities they really need.

Jessie, 18, is from New Brunswick, N.J., and attends Rutgers University, where she would like to pursue a degree in social work, early childhood education, philosophy or psychology.