Painting of a young man lying on his back among greenery

2021 Was More of the Same, But Creativity Carried Me Through

Painting of a young man lying on his back among greenery

(Illustration of the author by Tania Perez)

Commentary, Juan C. Mendoza

A year is only measured by 12 months, but lately time seems to be going right past me. There’s so much to see through our screens, and to my great dismay, it seems like the years and events that occur within them are repeating. From a virus that is yet to be halted to a privileged white boy shooting and killing people and walking free, even being given a platform.

In the beginning of 2021, my mom and I were hopeful for a better year — one with less stress, at least — but it seems now those wishes were too much to ask for. As I continue to grow, I’m beginning to see more and more of what movies would warn the main characters about: We’re taking too much from our planet; men with power want more; the world is ending. I guess it’s easy for me to see the negatives; being born in the 2000s, the news has been filled with danger — imminent danger, everlasting danger — my whole life.

>>>Read: My Entire Life Has Been in the Shadow of 9/11

Joe Biden was elected as the new U.S. president and Kamala Harris became the first female vice president. Every time someone new is elected feels like reaching into a cookie jar and not being able to see that there are no cookies in the jar. I was expecting student loan debts to be erased. I stubbornly expected our planet to be healed by now. Am I really wishing for too much?

With social media and consumerism flooding my mind at times, I forget all that I’ve learned and all that I’ve reinforced into my character. I feel myself becoming more and more a person who wishes but doesn’t plan and act. With the new “Matrix” movie coming out, I’ve been pondering the idea of humans being plugged into a machine taking away everything that makes them human. Am I already hooked in? To my phone? To the machine that floods wealthy people’s pockets? Me?

>>>Read: Social Media Puts Users Like Me in Quite a ‘Dilemma’

Besides questioning my existence, I’m listening to my mom who works at Kaiser Permanente in Richmond. I see her worry and fear for the future and how much COVID-19 has been taking away. I see how many lives are being grouped into a category, a statistic, and with the new variant, it seems like this pandemic will never end. I had a COVID scare recently and had to quarantine for a while, my physical body trapped in my room but my mind left free. I began to shift my focus towards people incarcerated in prison, their bodies confined to a box but still in danger of the coronavirus while their mind is free and full of memories.

This year, I was able to finish my spring and fall classes with a 3.8 GPA, yet, honestly, I felt no great achievement. I worked harder than I ever had to keep my grades high, and after it all, after telling my parents and hoping for great praise and congratulations, they asked me, “So what’s next? What about a job?” My whole academic year was shattered in that moment. I was left more conflicted than ever, and I’m no longer proud of myself.

This year, I witnessed injustices, like the year before and every year before that. I saw an almost literal slap on the wrist for killing people. Though Kyle Rittenhouse was caught on tape shooting three people, killing ​​Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, he was acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense. During the trial, he didn’t seem sorry for his actions until they cued him to cry crocodile tears. And Judge Bruce Schroeder plainly siding with him — well, I have never felt more contempt in my life.

I also saw a national outcry for a white woman who was killed by her boyfriend, who later killed himself. Hearing other people around me talk about it, it sounded like a drama series. This outcry is never seen for people of color or other people from minority groups. The only place I see posters and outcries for missing people of color is on Twitter. I’ve seen so many people go missing. In 2017, a friend of mine went missing, like many others. His name is Jonathan Bandabaila, and he is missed so much. Where is his national outcry? Am I selfish for wanting his outcry? I want him with his family.

All this has been said before. I’ll be remembering this 30 years from now because of all the repetition.

This year has made me age many years in a very short amount of time. Just 12 months, but I am not the same young man I was at the beginning of the year. I realize I have so much more growing up to do. I just wish I got to be a kid a little bit longer. And I’m scared to be hopeful for a better year. I am only hopeful for the love I’m ready to give to and receive from the people around me.

>>>Read: Staying Home Brought Me Closer to Family and Art

With everything around me seeming to fall apart, I found refuge in my music and in my love, Tania. This year, I got to witness Tania create so much great art, and I was gifted with the inspiration and meaning that fell from her hands. I wish I could live in her art, swim in her imagination and creations. I know I would thrive there.

Lately, I’ve been spending time with Malcolm Marshall of the Pulse, mixing and mastering an album I’ve been working on for over a year now. It’s something I’m very proud of, and Malcolm has taught me so much more than I have learned before. The process of making music, falling down the rabbit hole of creation, has formed this part of me where I feel regenerated and free. I know I’ve been through a lot, but I used to be very unaware and even silent about it. Now, I can express how events in my life have affected me. I can take the emotions I feel that I have no idea what to do with and put them into this sound that carries me away. Learning how to make music and listening to what I’ve created this year has made me excited for my future with music, and I want to share it with everyone.

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