Don’t Let me Be Misunderstood – Nina Simone

by Joann “Jo” Ayuso, she/her/hers
Founder, Director of Movement Education Outdoors
YIA Community Partner

I came up with seven other siblings. We lived in the projects in Mass. My mom still had to work three jobs to feed us and keep the apartment. I am the youngest “La nena” taken care of by my sister Eveline who used ASL to communicate because she started losing her hearing at the age of four and it was gone by the age of 14 due to scarlet fever. I am thankful for her for many reasons, she is my favorite, but also because I am trilingual. But just with any other language if you do not use it you lose it, it’s like my Spanglish now. I am also the only one who went to college. It’s Spring and I am seeing young folks finishing up their last year in high school excited for what’s next. I remember not wanting to go to college because adults around me did not push, encourage, or support me in academics. In my family, we were just taught to work hard and get that paper. It was suggested by my brother that I go to the Army. I didn’t go overseas or anything, but I was away for a minute and was immersed in structure, support and experienced an amount of accomplishment I had never experienced. With that I was able to have the courage, willingness, and determination to try college. Once I did, my family treated me different. They said I talked funny, and I was trying to be something I was not. That hurt. I am good now because I see that as part of a system of oppression. There are a lot of graduates coming up now, they have seen and lived through stuff some folks will not in their lifetime. Lift our graduates, Lift your loved ones, Lift those who cannot lift themselves