Minnesota Teen Wins Chipotle Essay Contest With Heartbreaking Story

Fans of Chipotle may have noticed something new on the franchise’s take-out bags.

The bags now feature a moving 300-word essay written by a Minnesota high school student.

Fue Xiong, a student at Central Senior High School, won the restaurant chain’s Cultivating Thought student essay contest, the company announced. Xiong was among 10 grand prize winners to have their writing featured on Chipotle’s packaging and receive a $20,000 scholarship.

His essay details the story of his family’s last meal in a refugee camp in Thailand before they departed for America. He was 5 years old at the time.

“Our departure from a year trapped behind the barbed wire camp fence was tomorrow,” he wrote. “Twenty minutes later, my mother, eight siblings, and I surrounded a paper plate of fried sardines and rice on the dirt floor. My youngest sister, Yer, ate first. Our hands unwashed, we each took turns. For my mother, there was nothing left except the meatless head. She took it and smiled.”

Xiong, now captain of his school’s soccer team and headed to serve in the military, submitted the powerful essay to Chipotle last May, he told NBC affiliate KARE 11.

In the moment he describes, Xiong was dealing with his father’s drowning death and the uncertainty of what was ahead for him in America.

“An airplane flew somewhere far above us. I was frightened of what life in America would be like,” he wrote. “’I miss dad. Will he ever come back?’ ‘He won’t, but he is up there watching over you,’ my mom said. ‘Let go of everything. It’s time to start a new life.’”

In the essay, Xiong wrote that he asked his mother why the sardines were so salty. “It’s your tears,” she told him.

“Twelve years later, sardines still taste like tears,” he said.

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