In Their Own Words – Luis

LUCA is proud to launch the second #InTheirOwnWords series! Over the next few weeks, we will share personal statement essays written by the Latino U Scholars Class of 2022 so that our Scholars can introduce themselves and share their experiences – in their own words. All essays are shared with the permission of each Scholar. The essay below was written by Luis, a Latino U Scholar from Sleepy Hollow High School.


“You should not be ashamed of collecting bottles and cans,” my parents said throughout my childhood. I had a hard time grasping that sentiment from an early age. When I collected bottles, my number one goal was to go unnoticed by anyone I knew. I thought my dignity would dissolve if anyone found out what I do with my spare time. I became stealthy. I took great pains to creep slowly along my route, and my efforts to remain quiet were almost painful. Once in a groove, I would daydream about the money I was earning, only to be brought back to the present, muscles clenched, by a rattling tin can. If only I knew then what I know now. 

Every Tuesday afternoon, at around five or six o’clock, I went out to collect bottles and cans along my assigned streets — given by my dad when I was in middle school. He sat me down and explained that we could make money by retrieving and returning the items on which each household had left a 5-cent deposit. Because the bottles and cans were already in the recycling bin, the original buyers clearly did not intend to take this step themselves. I stuffed my pockets with three leaf bags and headed off to my first stop, on a steep road. Walking up this hill was no trouble as I was accustomed to its erratic peaks and flats already. As I climbed the steep road,  I’d find blue bins on the curb of the first four houses I reached. I collected the recyclables: Smart Water bottles, Canada Dry cans, Corona & Bud Light dark glass bottles, and Poland Spring plastic bottles of every size. This is the population of the iconic blue bins you probably drive by every day.

Winter is tough: it’s my least favorite season when I’m collecting bottles and cans. When some people see snowflakes, they are reminded of Christmas and holiday joy. However, when I see snowflakes while collecting, I am reminded of an altercation I hope to forget. One evening, on my regular route, I saw a bag of cans and bottles neatly placed on the pavement in front of a house. As I approached to take it, a couple yelled at me from their doorstep to stop what I was doing. The woman growled at me, “Get out of here!” and continued with racist remarks I refuse to remember. I did what she told me, I left her curbside and the street entirely, never to go back. 

“One experience does not represent an entire society,” I told myself. I had to hold on to that fact to get myself out the door on the next collecting day. Many times, people were friendly to me. I remember a lovely woman who came out of her house several times to actually help me collect the bottles out of her recycling bin. I greatly appreciate this woman for validating my work. The years that I collected bottles and cans taught me that some people will always oppose what I’m doing and do anything in their power to prevent my success. I also learned there are always other places with friendlier people willing to support my efforts to earn money.

I learned so much from my experiences collecting bottles and cans that when I think back to my earliest days, I can hardly remember why I resisted. Over the years, I began to understand the power of positive thinking and the appreciation of others. When I was paid each week, I learned that all jobs are worthwhile, and I valued the money all the more. I feel proud of what I do because I know that it benefits my family financially, and I know that I’ve done my share to earn the money we have. As I continue collecting bottles and cans, I’ll always hold my head high.