My mom and dad grew up in the post-World War II boon when they really believed that you could achieve anything that you worked hard at. They grew up in San Gabriel, CA, where the joke was that everyone was related to one another and it was understood which side of the railroad tracks, which ran directly behind my grandparents’ houses, one should stay on. But my dad was a dreamer and moved us away from San Gabriel, and briefly away from Southern California. When we returned to Southern California we ended up in very white Orange County, in a place called Mission Viejo and the year was 1965.
The community may have had a Spanish name, but we were the only Mexican-American family in our neighborhood that I remember. Dad and mom became fast friends with the Olivareses, but they were way on the other side of town. All of the kids I remember growing up with were various shades of white. That said, except for the occasional random name-calling, I don’t remember many cases where I was treated any differently than any other dorky kid. Mom said much later that she thought that my younger brother and next older sister had it more difficult than I did because they were darker than I was. I didn’t see it, but then I was just a kid and all I cared about was football, my G.I. Joe and the Apollo space program.
I grew up believing and then acting on the belief that you can be anything you want to be, if you just work really hard at it. It was a different time and I was able to just be a kid with no concerns about food or whether someone might take our home from us or keep my dad from doing his job. I never worried that someone might say that I couldn’t take any class, sport or school organization that I would want to participate in. I knew that I was lucky to grow up in this place, at this particular time in history, but I never really thought about how life for others wasn’t anything like what I had experienced.
Somehow it was understood that, even though my grandparents only had a grammar school education and my folks got as far as high school graduation, Education was going to be the key to having a better life. It was just a given in my mind that after high school I was going to go to college. It never dawned on me that some people had to choose between making a living or getting an education. And the idea that someone wouldn’t be allowed to continue their education because of their gender, their ethnic heritage or because of which religion they were raised with was even more foreign to me. I knew that school wasn’t some kind of better-job-factory, as much as it enabled one to reach beyond ones upbringing, ones native village and participate in the much larger world. Ones native language, country of origin or what ones father did for a living was immaterial to the task at hand. What was more important was ones willingness and energy to learn and the diversity of experiences one brought to the learning.
So, I’ve never really known inequity in my career or social life because I was one of the lucky ones who had access to Education and I was able to jump in with both feet and have never stopped learning. And now as an educator, going into my 20th year working with students, I see that my job isn’t to be someone’s judge or inquisitor. Life is hard enough and will do that job well enough. I’m the coach meant to push and motivate the students to do more and be more than they ever imagined that they would accomplish. My job is to bring as many along as are willing to do the work and surpass anything that I might have accomplished.
There will always be places in the world where small-minded people will inflict others with their own self-doubt and fear and backwater mythologies. But as my life has enjoyed great freedoms from restriction, so others will overcome and move beyond the inequities that they might have grown up with if they have access to Education and the opportunities presented having endured the process.