In a world of over seven-billion I know that I’m one of the lucky ones. The opportunities that I took advantage of as a young man and the endless second-chances that I’ve had were the benefits of the hard work and suffering of those who came before me. I can’t imagine having my family or I punished by authorities because I changed my religious affiliation from Roman Catholic to Evangelical to Agnostic and back and forth a few times. In this world, I can’t imagine that anyone would really care. My job opportunities have never been limited because of my family or anything that my father did or didn’t do. My grandfather was a gardener and my father worked in Landscaping, eventually working in management for the Irvine Company and for the city of Mission Viejo before retiring. Because of my education, I had the freedom to choose a career other than landscaping and gardening (but true to the way things work with generations, one of my nephews graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture and is working in something related to landscaping). However I choose to expend my energy in life is my responsibility and a choice between me and those I choose to associate with. I couldn’t imagine being told as a fifteen-year-old that I would have to follow my father into the fields or factory or shop and that I had no choice in the matter.
I worked in a section of Southern California where 99% Kindergarteners didn’t speak English when they began school and while their families had come here looking for a better life, most of them carried the scars that come from being told generation after generation that their skin was too dark for them to ever amount to anything, that because of the family they came from they would never amount to anything and it would be wrong for them to even try. A colleague of mine was actually scolded by a mother because my friend was tutoring her students, particularly girls, in math after school. The parent was upset because my friend, who had worked in engineering in Ecuador before coming to this country, was encouraging her students to dream higher and work toward something better in life (through improved math skills!). I couldn’t imagine living in a world where children’s dreams are routinely crushed and whole villages and families live in fear of stepping outside of their expected path in life.
I’m one of the lucky ones, so it seems incongruous for me to comment on the difficulties of life. It seems that the one unifying theme when considering my advantageous life and the disadvantageous life of many is the idea of Hope. No one has actively stood in the way of what I’ve hoped for in life, while many cannot say that in this world. I don’t know what one can do about that, but I believe that it’s a fundamental first step to recognize, especially those of us who are the lucky ones, that we didn’t achieve on the basis of our activities along and that we need to pay-forward for the chance that we had in life that others have not had. When I taught in Hawaiian Gardens and Long Beach, I saw that it was my job to encourage my students to dream higher, to believe in their abilities and to not listen to the voices who would rob them of the one precious treasure that often matters most in life: Hope.