Today, I'm teaming up with Cents of Style to share my American Dream….and I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little bit my own story and why I feel it is so important to help in the community I work in (plus I'm sharing a really cute Fourth of July tee)!
Pictures by Cindy Green Photo
Writing this post today couldn't come at a better time. I just watched an entire class of fifth graders graduate, I bawled my eyes out (I do every year), and then I begged them all to come back to visit. I'm often asked WHY I chose to work in an inner city school. After 14 years, haven't I “helped enough”? Am I worried about my own safety? Isn't it exhausting?
The vast majority of my students are, and have always been first generation immigrants. Often, their siblings and parents were born elsewhere. At times, they are separated from their parents. At my school, the average education level the parents is somewhere between fourth and eighth grade. Over 75% of our students are second language learners.
I give the same speech at the start of every school year. And somehow, every year…..it makes me choke up. Believe it or not, I relate to my students in more ways than meet the eye. My sister and I are the first full generation of my mother's family to be born in the United States (at this point, my students tend to look surprised….I know, the blonde hair and blue eyes suggest otherwise). My grandparents (and my mother's older sister) are Italian. They moved to the United States before my mother was born. And my grandparents (much like the majority of parents at my school) did not have the opportunity to finish elementary school. They moved to the United States with no grasp of the language. They worked in factories canning tomatoes. After my mom was born, they saved their money and slowly began to buy properties around the San Francisco Bay Area.
I remember when I was young thinking it was odd that my grandparents couldn't speak English with fidelity. I also remember the delicious smells, the hugs, the constant questions about school and grades, and the fun and support that comes with a large Italian family.
I was one of the lucky ones. My sister and I……we were their American Dream. We were given the opportunities that our relatives before us were not. Going to college immediately after high school wasn't an option, it was a given. And now as an adult myself, I realize……my grandparents goal in moving here? Was to allow future generations of our family to struggle LESS. To give us choices they didn't have.
And so, I feel it is my responsibility to honor them. The gifts they have given us, are priceless. So I honor them each day and I attempt to learn Spanish in order to communicate with my students' families. I honor them as I look at my students, and see my own mother's face staring back at me. I honor them as I tell their story to families, and share that they attained financial success and stability here as United States citizens. I honor them, as I encourage each student to work hard and plan for the future. And I honor them, as I ask their parents to hold high expectations and to support their education…..even if they did not have the opportunity to attend school themselves.
The thing that constantly amazes me? The American Dream is timeless. The drive, the goal of creating a life for your children that is easier than your own? We all have that. It will continue to pass from generation to generation……and allow new dreamers to create new stories for their own families.What is your family story?