Concentrate on survival . . . college is just a dream

I recently attended to “El festival de los sueños”. This is an intimate annual festival is being held every summer in Greenfield, CA. The hosts are Mexican fieldworkers who are parents of first generation high school students who are working toward college education for their children. The purpose is to share our dreams for the incoming academic year. A public park and a three are the silent witnesses since 2009. My role there is to be the cheerleader for the parents and an adopted parent for the children. 22 families that I have known since 2007 compose the group and this time 5 of them came with their children (around 20 people). Anyhow, this year I was particularly excited about the festival since I just graduated from MS and got to introduce them my parents who flew to this country for the first time for my commencement ceremony. The whole party was to refresh the dream of college graduation that often seems so far for them. I knew they prepared special arrangements to celebrate my just earned degree and expected me to lecture their children on the importance of college education. But, not mater who does it, being lectured at a ten age is never fun.

Instead of talking I decided to make up a game of manifestation. With my cap and a borrowed gown, each one of them would come to the front to talk about their dream while they pose for the picture.  After some begging for some shy teenagers and a lot of excitement and cheers from the parents, we took pictures of each person who attended including parents, and grandparents. As we took the picture I announced the “just earned” dreamed title and people applauded to the recent graduate. It was not easy to persuade some of the serious students. The lack of enthusiasm was not because of fear of being silly or appear stupid but because of the shattered dream by everyday challenges.

Since I was the one dressing them, I got to hear many stories, most of them was about how college is definitively not an option when survival is a priority. For instance, a 17 year old who is a mother of a little baby said to me “I earn eight dlls per hour in the field and I need that money now for my baby, how I can think about finishing high school?”. Just two years ago she was a student leader and a sport player. Just looking at her eyes I could see her dreams and her reality as well as the strength she gain with her pregnancy. She is picking broccoli now for 12 hours a day and looks much older but happier than two years ago when she thought her world has ended. I also got a dad who divides his time between picking vegetables and staying at the hospital with her family. His daughter was diagnosed with a malign brain tumor last year. “I am an engineer in Mexico and one day I will go to college here but not this year” he told me. My guess is that he says that to himself every year for the past 17 years. A 18 year old boy who just graduated from high school but did not applied to college and probably will never do said sarcastically “all I will do is picking strawberries, what college is that?” He pretended he did not care and he laugh about it but he still came to play the game and posed for the picture like a serious man. We also have the 17 year old who is an athlete and got a partial scholarship to Fresno State University. He and his parents still need to come up with the rest of the money but I am positive he will do it. He has the spark and perseverance that is needed to pursue his dream. The entire group is very proud of him. 1 out 22 families who have a high school graduate this year will go to college! I know the numbers are not very encouraging but this did not stop them to celebrate the one who is going.

One by one, I listened all those stories, some other sadder than this ones. I kept smiling and being the cheerleader the entire time but I am telling you it was really hard at the moment. I am allowing my self to be in tears as I write this post. I saw so many dreams in those eyes and so little help from the universe. They are really navigating in turbulent waters when it comes to higher education. What is good about this project is that none of them are part of the gangs that are actually growing in Greenfield. This itself is a great triumph for these families.

I came back refreshed and ready for the PhD program. I know that may career would bring me into places where most of the population have achieved higher education but my heart is forever in Greenfield where college is just a dream because survival is a priority.


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