Rena Valdez, 15, a Peyton Heart Project Ambassador for Taos, NM. She will be a Peyton Heart Project Ambassador until August 12, 2020.
In Rena’s own words:
When someone sees me or meets me for the first time, they immediately think I am an over privileged beauty queen who has had everything handed [to her]. I am Rena Valdez, Miss Teen New Mexico International 2019.
What people don’t initially know about me is that I am adopted! I grew up in the foster care system. I have experienced bullying at its finest. I was an awkward, extremely small, redhead with blue eyes. I grew up in a community where that was not the norm. I got bullied because I was in foster care, things that were beyond my control. I was 6 maybe 7. My early years I have chosen to block out. I was adopted at 11 years old. I moved to the opposite end of the state to start a new life. I was given the last name Valdez. No one in my new town knew I was adopted or had lived in foster care. I was constantly teased because I had a very Spanish last name and I am fair skinned with freckles and [have] red hair and blue eyes. I would get ridiculed daily. My parents had enough when I came home from school yet again with another story. This time I was shoved up against lockers by two boys significantly larger than me. My parents moved me to a state chartered school. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop with the move. You see, while in foster care, I would miss a lot of school because of court and visitation with my biological mother. I was held back and my birthday is late. I was 2 years older than most of my classmates. That is when I became homeschooled.
I am not the only one bullied; my little brother is often a victim. He is almost 12 but the size of a maybe 6 year old. Our bio mom is small and I think his dad was as well, so it’s probably genetics. It’s hard seeing him get bullied. I used to stick up for him and protect him when we were in the same elementary school, but since I am so much older we wouldn’t be in the same school now.
Growing up in foster care and having my biological mother relinquish her parental rights was difficult. I spent a lot of time seeing a therapist. Soon, I started to self -harm. For me, it was a way to match my physical pain with the emotional pain I was feeling inside. After being adopted, it got better. I didn’t do it nearly as often as I once did. I joined the swim team and that was a way for me to release my emotions. Once I started getting bullied at swim, the cutting started again. This time I had to be strategic as to where I cut, as I was always in a swim suit. It took [the] death of a close family member to get me to stop. I haven’t cut in over a year. When I feel overwhelmed with life and it feels like life is spinning out of control I do laps in a pool. I have since quit the swim team but continue to swim as it is my way of releasing negative energy. I don’t ever want to get to the point of ending my own life. I am happy with everything I have accomplished. My biological father killed himself when I was only about 3. I have no idea what kind of man he was. I will never know. Last year I was supposed to go to dinner with a boy. He called me to tell me he had to cancel because he was in the emergency room for attempted suicide. Two weeks later I applied for my first pageant. I wanted to share with the world my story and hopefully have the opportunity to save one life. I have a semicolon tattoo on my right wrist, to remind me that my story isn’t over. Really, it’s just beginning. If I can start a conversation because of my semicolon and I save one life, then it was all worth it.
With my title of Miss Teen New Mexico International 2019, I have had the opportunity to share my story at local events. I am constantly trying to bring awareness to bullying and suicide awareness. I talk to preschoolers and kindergarteners about being nice to others and the importance of not bullying. I talk to high schoolers about the effects of bullying and the statistics of suicidal ideation among peers. If I start now, by the time my brother is in high school I hope he won’t be bullied as much. My brother suffers from mental [health issues]. He has been treated in a [psychiatric] facility. I used to go visit him while we were in foster care. He struggles daily with his [issues] but I hope the bullying will be minimal as he ages.
I have supported suicide prevention and awareness, along with anti-bullying since I began my pageantry journey. It was when I met the newly crowned Miss International 2019, [Ava Hill] during pageant week that I became more informed about The Peyton Heart Project. Finally, everything I believed in and support was right here waiting for me. I am excited to be able to have the opportunity to work with The Peyton Heart Project to help spread awareness about issues that are extremely important. Especially to my peers. No one should ever feel scared to go to school. No one should ever feel ashamed of who they are. More importantly, no one should ever feel the need to take their own life to escape the negativity in their lives.
As an ambassador, I plan on using my title and crown as Miss Teen New Mexico International 2019 to help spread awareness. To help those who are struggling just as I did. I need to be that voice for those who are afraid to speak up. I may look like I am over-privileged, but I have worked hard for everything I have; including my happiness. I wish all to be able to have the opportunity to be happy. We all just need to push through those dark clouds, be strong and we will all get through life together.