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As I leave home for college, will I return `whitewashed’?

To “whitewash” means to trade in your cultural roots to embrace white culture. Denying your culture is an act of disgrace. Where I come from, it’s among the worst crimes to commit.

As I ride the Metro in White Center for the last time for a while, I thank God I survived. I can’t say the same for several of my peers who may never make it out of the ghetto. I have a friend choosing motherhood over college, others who are dropouts and are now dealing drugs, and some who it seems will forever stay trapped in the cycle of poverty. College is my ticket out.

And while I’m happy to be leaving, I’m going to miss White Center. It is here that I have become comfortable with who I am and have anchored myself in my cultural roots. When I leave to attend Western Washington University in Bellingham, which is practically all white, I worry that I will be uprooted from everything that has made me who I am. And what I fear most is compromising who I am just so I can fit in.

I have five sisters and we have fought over everything — and I mean everything. My sisters and I scrap for the last piece of chicken and wrestle each other to the bathroom. Now, who’s going to laugh at my corny jokes or get a kick out of me making a fool of myself? I’m going to miss all the crazy things my sisters and I have endured: all the shaving mishaps, guy problems and family drama.

When I move into the dorms, will my roommate be someone I can trust and confide in? I have become very independent. I’m not afraid to live without my parents. I know how to wash my own laundry, cook and be financially stable. I take pride in this, and I am grateful that my parents instilled in me the value of hard work.

Over the years, I have formed a supportive community of people who have encouraged and nurtured me. But when I go to Western, who will care if I succeed? I fear becoming a faceless person lost in a crowd.

During orientation recently, I looked for one familiar face, but I saw none. It felt like my first day of high school, but my fear was multiplied by 10. I wandered around campus like some lost fool, afraid to ask for help. I watched as parents hugged and kissed their kids, and I wished my parents were there to hold my hand.

But I had to remember that I’ve been looking forward to college for a long time, partially so I can finally break free from my parents.

When I come home to White Center to visit, I hope I’m still the same Mary. I don’t think I’ll change for the worse. Believe me, my family will give me a reality check if I step out of line. And I refuse to let myself grow apart from them.

I know that all of these fears, with time, will dissipate. I will hold on to what grounds me: my family, friends and, yes, my community. I will never forget where I come from, because then I will lose sight of where I’m going.

Mary Andom is a writer for NEXT, a Sunday opinion page in The Seattle Times, and a freshman at Western Washington University.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.