As we grow up, we begin learning that certain things have a high priority in our parents' lives. Whether it be money, good manners, school or never, EVER, removing the plastic cover from the new sofa set. One of the things that I knew was important for my mother was literacy.
A little back story so you can understand the amazing human being that my mother is, she immigrated from Mexico leaving her job as a nurse, her home and family to give us a better life. She was lucky enough to survive an entire week walking through the dessert and managed to get a job that payed for my sister and I to finally live in the US. She worked multiple jobs, cooking in Burger King, waitressing and later became a lunch server at my school: Treasure Forest Elementary.
Having your mother be part of the cafeteria staff was difficult, I must admit. Many classmates made fun of the fact that my mother was a server, even though what they didn't see was that she always managed to give me an extra chicken nugget, or an extra scoop of mashed potatoes! Take that bullies :P ! After work, she would come to my class, give me a little snack and our journey began. Every day we walked about two miles to the Ring Neighborhood Library. It was the BEST part of my day. There were huge teddy bears and comfy places where I could lay down and read for what seemed like an eternity. Meanwhile, my mom would use the computers to practice English. That was our routine for some time until one day, coming back home, a car full of young guys passed and threw something at my mom and I. My mom always walked on the side of the road, so the object only hit her. It was an egg. Part of me was confused, the guys seemed to be laughing, my mom actually smiled after the pain was gone. However, a pain that never left us was the shame of walking somewhere, it's silly but it's true!
After that incident, I for SURE thought we would never be walking to the library again...and I was right. The next day my mom came to pick me up and said, "Are you ready?". I figured she meant ready to go home, nope! She said, "We are not walking to the library, we are taking the Metro". WHAT?! We had NEVER ridden the Metro. The entire situation seemed too complicated for us. 1. You need to know English to be able to communicate in case you get lost or to see if the bus is the right one. 2. You need a route map to know which bus to take. 3. We didn't know the form of payment. And 4. Who was allowed to ride on the Metro? All of these things made it a scary situation for my mom and I to immerse ourselves in. However, she seemed determined and confident in the research that she had done by asking around. We walked to the bus stop, we payed our dollar and received a ticket, and off we went! We did that for the remaining of my elementary years.
Unconsciously, those afternoons spent in the library saved me from realizing how poor we were and the lack of love that existed between my parents.
Her persistence in not giving up this time regardless of the challenges made me think...literacy... yeah... it must be important.
A NON-TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOL
When I graduated from fifth grade, my mom insisted in me enrolling in a charter school. I did everything possible to not turn in the applications, not give my mom the acceptance letters and I abused the fact that I was her interpreter to keep her from knowing the status of my enrollment. Oh, how I regretted my choices later.
I went on to the feeder middle school and high school just to realize the reality of my environment. My mom didn't work in those schools anymore, she wasn't there every afternoon to pick me up and take me to my safe haven. I had a culture clash with my own culture. I became aware of drugs and how easy they are to sneak in to schools. I witnessed friends drinking vodka straight out of a Sprite bottle. I saw how a Coke can could be used as a pipe to smoke marijuana. I learned how you could smoke a joint while your professor was turned to the board and simply spray some Febreeze after each puff to avoid them from smelling it and many other fun activities involving drugs. All. In. School. I came to school feeling like I didn't belong. I wasn't pretty enough or agile enough to be a cheerleader, I wasn't athletic enough to be good at sports, and I didn't show enough skin to have any sort of boy interested in me! I felt that my strengths, being intelligent, weren't worthy of recognition. You might be thinking, "Ugh, she's so needy!" and to that I say, ABSOLUTELY. You see, when you grow up without a strong parental figure you develop a need for attention. Trends these days like to refer this condition as "Daddy Issues". Anyway...I didn't feel important.
My sophomore year I enrolled in a program at the Guthrie Center. This center allowed high schoolers from around the area to attend courses such as Graphic Design, 3D Animation, Cosmetology, Photography and ROTC. During one of my courses I saw a guy reading a book that caught my attention at the time (I honestly don't remember the title and don't want to make it up). Most of our conversations from that day forward revolved around him telling me all about how amazing his school was. I decided to take matters into my own hands, researched the school, got my mom to sign the application and within a month I was transferred and on my way to Westchester Academy for International Studies, a Spring Branch ISD public charter school.
The first day that I arrived I felt something different. Everyone looked happy, the classrooms had desks together and I realized that literacy was also important to them. Not only was literacy valued, creativity was PRAISED, ENCOURAGED and EXPECTED. My art teacher pushed me to create art that was mine, and not copied like everything else I did prior to WAIS. There was a mix of cultures that inevitably contributed to the vibrant atmosphere. It was an international school and we often received exchange students who kept us learning about the world beyond our walls.
As I became an educator, I've made it my mission to incorporate many of the values that were instilled in me during my years at WAIS. I honestly believe that the only way to move our urban youth forward is to provide them with experiences that foster their creativity, uniqueness, and curiosity to expand their knowledge beyond the limitations of their environment.
I've always been fascinated by the clips in movies or commercials where little kids come up to their parents and show them a piece of artwork and the mother praises the child and hangs up the work on the fridge. That was never the case for me. If I came home with a drawn portrait of myself, family member or any other person mom would take a moment to analyze it, and would often give it back to me with detailed feedback such as "Hmm..looks great, how about you keep working on that shading though?". B's were never good enough for her, I was always expected to earn nothing less than an A. Although I suffered from extreme first world problems by never earning the verbal praise from my mom, I knew I meant the world to her. I loved when others would ask about her daughters, because that is when she would speak volumes about me.
Today I understand that I have to fight with issues such as being a people pleaser, I obviously have trust issues and feelings of never being "good enough"...but I value accountability and knowing that people always rise to the standards that you set for them. I value honest feedback and cherish the feeling of working hard to EARN your stripes. My mother's accountability saved me from making mistakes that I would later regret in life, all while pushing me to become the best version of myself.
This ended up being a Thank You letter for my mother, and I'm feeling nervous about sharing this out. However, if you were kind enough to click on this link and cared enough to read until the end, you learning a little bit about my story doesn't bother me at all!