Fernanda Ortiz. Illustration: Sam Hester

Fernanda Ortiz: A Cochrane teen finds growth in hardship

I’m not the only one that’s going through it.’

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To close out 2020, we're bringing you 20 stories from an extraordinary year. Doctors. Teachers. Entrepreneurs. Activists. These are the stories of ordinary Albertans who were changed by circumstances beyond their control—and what they did to make their worlds, and ours, a little better.



For 13-year-old Fernanda Ortiz, 2020 has been a coming of age. But it has also been a year of disappointment.

While she’s always been wise beyond her years (how many kids learn Korean so they can understand K-Pop lyrics?), these last few months have led her to an even wider view on the world.

Ortiz admits sadly that this will be the first Christmas she won’t be in Mexico with her grandparents, with whom she lived until she was eight. “It’s not about the presents, it’s just about our presence,” she said.

She misses hugging friends, and homeschooling requires tremendous discipline. But the perspective she’s gained over the last ten months is keeping her grounded.

It’s not about the presents, it’s just about our presence.

Fernanda Ortiz

Ortiz, who lives in Cochrane, says that in 2019 her frustrations often were over trivial things, like being impatient with her family or “not getting that chocolate from Walmart.” But now, she says, she has “something that’s actually worth getting angry at.”

There are in fact many somethings the Mexican-Canadian teen is raising her powerful voice about.

In June, Ortiz spoke to a crowd of hundreds at Cochrane’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally; although she’s been aware of the BLM movement since 2016, she’s now using her own experiences with racism to connect to something bigger.

“It’s never good that it’s happening to other people,” she said. “But it makes me feel like I’m not the only one that’s going through it.”

Since early summer, Ortiz has also been visiting migrant farm-workers with her family, bringing supplies and resources. She’s helping with the Association of Mexicans in Calgary’s winter clothing drive, and is keen for people to support that.

“Some of them have been coming here for 15 years,” she described. “And they can’t apply for residency, or they’re away from their families and they don’t get that much recognition.”

It’s never good that [racism is] happening to other people. But it makes me feel like I’m not the only one that’s going through it.

Fernanda Ortiz

It’s not every 13-year-old whose activism is so intricately wound up with her family’s—but Ortiz is not your average 13-year-old.

Freed from the social pressures of school, she shaved her head in August: “It was so liberating!” she exclaimed.

She’s learned to authentically apologize, a skill not even many adults have mastered. And her relationship with her parents has transformed.

“They don’t irritate me as much anymore… we talk more,” she said. “We get along better—more quality time. I think that’s one of the good things that’s happening in quarantine.”

Brianna Sharpe is a freelance journalist who covers LGBTQ2S+ issues, politics, parenting, and more. She lives on a mini-acreage in the Alberta foothills with her family.

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