Former Boyle Heights Beat reporter Melissa Martínez in an undated photo while paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland. “The instructor let me take control of the parachute for a couple minutes.” Photo courtesy of Melissa Martínez

I watched a lot of television growing up. My parents both had night shifts at a tortillería so during the day they would rest and I had to make sure my baby sister and newborn brother were as quiet as possible. Watching television was the best way to entertain all three of us. I loved watching cooking shows, scary shows, and above all, traveling shows. It was typically the History Channel that featured people going to foreign places to examine old abandoned cities and ancient pots and paintings. From our living room in City Terrace, at nine years old, I developed a desire to travel and to discover new places.

Melissa in May, on graduation day, on the campus of Loyola Marymount University.

I lived a sheltered life. Because my parents slept during the day, we hardly ever went out during the week, except to go to the grocery store. My daily life was walking to school and then walking back home. This was my routine for eight years, until then Boyle Heights Beat Editor Anabel Romero came to give a presentation in my ninth grade English class at Roosevelt High School about a new program where high school students would write a community newspaper.

I decided to write for Boyle Heights Beat because I was going to be attending Roosevelt High School for the next four years of my life but didn’t know much about the community, except for the intersection of Soto Street and César Chávez Avenue. I had never felt unsafe walking to school, but everything I ever heard about Boyle Heights on television was that it was dangerous. I decided I wanted to know Boyle Heights by my own account.

I think Boyle Heights truly felt like my home when I worked on a story about the Neighborhood Music School. I had so much fun getting to know the people that worked in the office and the students that attended there. It was close enough to walk to after school, so I went multiple times for interviews and observations. I went more times than necessary because I truly felt welcome and comfortable there.

After my story was published, I became a scholarship student at the Neighborhood Music School. I had always wanted to take piano lessons. After a year, I left because I got involved in other extracurricular activities and didn’t have time to practice. However, I kept in touch with the people there and came back to volunteer every once in a while for the next couple of years.

Melissa Martínez on the east side of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

I left Boyle Heights for Westchester when I started as a freshman at Loyola Marymount University in August 2014. With my full scholarship at Loyola as well as a $10,000 scholarship from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, I took advantage of every travel opportunity I could. I started with a trip to New Orleans during my second semester and ended with a four-month study abroad trip in Bonn, Germany (Beethoven’s hometown), during my junior year. Fun fact: in Bonn, my host family and I lived in a neighborhood called Beuel (pronounced Boyle), it was a comforting detail. I had the chance to travel to 12 countries during my time in Germany, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

In between those years of traveling with my school, I also had the opportunity to make personal trips on my own to Puebla, Mexico, to meet my grandmother for the first time. For 20 years, I’d only seen her in pictures and talked to her on the phone. No one told my grandmother that I was coming because we wanted to surprise her. She hugged me as soon as she saw me and as tears ran down her cheeks, I saw my mother’s face in hers. I knew from that moment that I would be coming to Mexico as often as I could to make up for all the lost time.

I took my Boyle Heights Beat experience with me wherever I went; when I had conversations with random people I met in my adventures in far away lands, walking through unknown cities with signs in foreign languages and looking for the hidden gems of each town. Traveling made my world bigger, but most importantly, it reminded me of my home: Boyle Heights.

I was in Germany thinking about how excited I was to go back home in a couple more weeks when I saw the application link for a summer music programs internship on the Neighborhood Music School’s Facebook page. I updated my resume and sent it with my cover letter.

Melissa in front of John Lennon wall in Prague, Czech Republic.

I hadn’t been back since I was a sophomore in high school. I realized that a lot of people I knew then were no longer at the school. I had no idea what to expect when I thought about returning to the purple Victorian house that sits on Boyle Ave.

The chords of pianos and violin melodies immediately echoed in my ears as I walked through the same squeaky door. I was nervous about the interview, but it also was comforting to be in a familiar place.

The entire staff made me feel welcome. Even though there had been many changes, I could tell they were beneficial to the school. I got a call a few days later letting me know that I had the job. I was so excited because this school, along with Boyle Heights Beat, made this neighborhood my home. After four life-changing months of being away, I really wanted to be a part of something that would help give back to my community.

Expanding my horizons and making my world a little bigger was something that began at home in Boyle Heights. Now, I get to work with people from different backgrounds who come together to teach and learn music and make our neighborhood brighter. Boyle Heights Beat paved my way to finding the Neighborhood Music School. I am so grateful that these two organizations have changed my life for the better, by giving me a city to stay grounded in because even though I still long to travel to different cities, I know I have a place to come home to.

Photo above: Melissa Martínez while paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland. All photos courtesy of Melissa Martínez.

The BHB youth news team.

The Boyle Heights Beat  has become a go-to news source for community residents, civic leaders and policymakers. The Beat also opens new horizons for its youth reporters, providing them with unparalleled experience in civic participation, critical thinking and community leadership. The youth news team asks for your financial support to continue this important work in the coming year.

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Melissa Martínez

A former reporter at Boyle Heights Beat and a 2014 graduate of Roosevelt High School, Melissa Martínez was the first in her family to attend college. She graduated in the Spring from Loyola Marymount...

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