Fourth place (tie) — Aisha Galdo: Building our own paradise

Aisha Galdo

Aisha Galdo

The idea that there is a blissful eternity waiting for us after death is an enticing one. It tells us that if we wait long enough and go through the motions long enough, we will be rewarded for an empty existence. This encouragement of passivity can be encountered through many religious texts, such as in the New Testament, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). It tells us that we should never stand up for ourselves or others, and just let the figures of authority, whether they be religious or not, run our lives. It is this very verse that slave owners read to their slaves to keep them complacent; promise them an idyllic life after this one, as long as they keep their heads down and their hands working.

As a woman of color, this promotion of passivity in the face of oppression offends me to my core. Even though I am young, I know that I will face significant challenges in my career and personal life due to my gender and heritage. I will never be able to stay idle if I wish to succeed; there is nothing for me to inherit from the earth if I am meek. Throughout history, my people have never inherited anything from this earth that was not sown by our ancestors’ spilled blood and sweat.

This world is the only one I have, and even if there was a paradise after this existence, it was never meant for people like me. It was never meant for people like us. Heaven has never been for anyone except those who had it so much better than everyone else that others could only fantasize about a paradise half as good as theirs.

The price of heaven has always been about keeping others down. The powerful tell the weak not to fight back or else they’ll lose the promise of heaven. The weak tell their brothers and sisters not to fight back or else they’ll lose what little they have. I cannot fathom why they would believe this. The same people who filled us with these promises are the ones who pillaged our villages, stole our belongings and ripped apart our families.

The only way we will ever be able to reach paradise is if we build one right here, in this world. Only through fighting back against this inequality and empowering our brothers and sisters can we hope to one day live in the place that was promised to us.

This world is the only one we can have now, the only world worth fighting for. We cannot wait for a paradise to make itself shown to us, we must make it ourselves. The meek shall inherit this earth, the only earth that has ever made itself known to us.

Aisha, 18, attended Miami Beach Senior High School in Miami Beach, Fla. She was adopted from an indigenous Chinese tribe, which led her to do activist work for indigenous rights. She is an active member of Amnesty International and a founding member of the chapter at her high school. She will be attending the University of Florida, where she wishes to major in mechanical engineering. Aisha hopes to attend law school in the future.