San Antonio teen writes self-published book for a bigger purpose

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio is now represented in the New York Times’ first-ever personal narrative essay contest.

The challenge called for teenagers to write short stories about meaningful life experiences. There were over 8,000 entries from around the world and Maria Fernanda Benavides from Saint Mary’s Hall was one of eight winners.

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer. So obviously being published in The New York Times is the greatest dream that I could ever think of,” Benavides said.

Benavides wrote about an experience that had a profound effect on her -- a speech tournament that left her speechless.

“And then I made it to the final round. And as I was walking there, a couple of girls behind me, were talking about how the only reason I have found success in the activity was because I was speaking about being an immigrant woman, and I was just using a pity narrative to sort of get diversity points from judges,” Benavides said.

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Benavides’ award-winning writing for The New York Times gives readers an insight into her life experiences. Now she wants to use those experiences to help make a difference. And she’s doing that with a self-published book.

“It’s called the Summer With the Butterflies,” Benavides said. “Once they arrive in the U.S., the blank page is a symbol of beginnings for the children at the bus station. The blank page embodies a new adventure that they’re about to embark and the possibility of spreading their wings and reach of the skies. This is where their story begins.”

After spending time with refugee and migrant children at the bus station in downtown San Antonio, Benavides wanted to spend time with the children and help them get through the day by giving them a bunch of art supplies.

“But after words, when they gave me their gifts, their drawings as a gift, I decided to put them together in a book so that other people could see their drawings and how their hopeful hearts remained intact, even though they’ve been through devastating situations,” Benavides said.

For a lot of writers finishing a book might be the goal, but not for this author.

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“So, my first goal is to be able to send a book to every member of the U.S. Senate by raising $60,000 on Kickstarter, a project that I just started a couple of weeks ago. And my main goal is just to be able to advocate for immigration reform,” Benavides said.

That’s just the start, though. Maria eventually wants to be able to start a nonprofit of her own, which centers around giving arts scholarships to refugee and migrant children.

“Though it might be hard at first and you might think, ‘Oh, I’m not old enough or I’m not good enough.’ You are. It’s just a matter of being really passionate about what it is that you want to do and about having the drive and the initiative to go ahead and do it,” Benavides said.

If you are interested in buying the book, click here.

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