At age 9, Ariana is a fighter, a tomboy who hits back but never “throws the first lick.” She is a fair-minded girl who protests — loudly, and with tears in her voice — when her teacher plays the movie Bring It On during a class party. “They only wanna watch it ’cause it shows the little girls’ panties,” she says, as the 10-year-old boys around her hoot at the screen. Ariana dreams of becoming a strong, independent person with a career that suits her intellectual gifts.
In addition to high school, Ariana is taking public speaking classes at a community college. She works part-time at the Oakland Parks and Recreation department. Her step-dad, Ira, has moved back in with her and her mom.
Esmeralda clearly loves attention. When we first meet her, she’s a bubbly, confidant Daddy’s girl, proudly telling us about getting up at 5AM to open the school with her dad, the head custodian. By fifth grade, though, Esmeralda begins to express desires that her traditional Dad doesn’t approve of — like wanting to wear “hootchie” clothes. She’s the first to “develop”, and the first to date a boy. More and more, her attention becomes focused on boys — and on how to get them to pay attention to her.
Esmeralda recently celebrated her dream Quinceañera — complete with a stretch Hummer limo. Her plan is to become a real estate agent. In the meantime, she is waiting for the day when her dad will let her drive the family car.
Isha’s 5th grade look includes glasses and a reserved demeanor. People stream through her parents’ new liquor store in the gritty hotel district of San Francisco as Isha stocks cigarettes and prices snack food. At home, Isha makes tea for guests, attends to the family’s Hindu shrine and, like many other girls her age, idolizes the “girl power” cartoon characters The Power Puff Girls, which decorate the walls of her room. For Isha there are always two ways of doing things: the American way and the Indian way. And while she is at home singing songs and playing games on the rural farm where her cousins live, the crowded, frenetic playground of her school is foreign, and foreboding.
Isha continues to travel to India every summer where her family is now building a house. Her big dream is to become a nurse. She’s currently working at school as a library assistant and taking dance production.
At ten, Rosie appears older than many of her classmates and is most comfortable among adults. Her Anglo-American mother and Nicaraguan father struggle to support their daughter in the midst of their divorce. While her mother values her daughter’s independence, they intensely negotiate whether she will be able to walk to her new middle school alone. Rosie’s mother’s post traumatic stress disorder takes its toll on Rosie and it begins to disrupt her school life. As Rosie hides behind the music in her CD player and books of poetry, she dreams of becoming... something, someone, someday. But what? Who? When?
Rosie is enjoying the independence of high school and is getting mostly A’s. She’s starting her own literary magazine with friends and is pouring the rest of her creative energy into cooking and baking.