When They Grow Up

We dream big for our kids. It’s no matter that they’re not biologically ours. Whether we are educators, aunts and uncles, or politicians, we carry lofty goals and ambitions for the generations to come. We hope that each upcoming generation will be the one to save the world’s problems, while living happily and healthfully in a community of caring individuals.

Okay. Maybe this specific vision is just for me, but I believe that we all want what’s best for kids, and we want them to feel like they have a chance at growing up to be whoever they want to be.

Today, I asked a few of our first and second grade girls to give a short oral presentation, complete with a collage of pictures for what they want their life to look like when they grow up. They cut out pictures of cars, shoes, dogs, and chocolate. They giggled shamefully at swimsuit and perfume advertisements, discussed how many cervezas their parents drink in a night, and they looked at pictures of celebrities with flowing blonde hair and makeup caked faces, and said, “I want to be her.”

In their presentations, they showed off their pictures and shared their dreams. And then they broke my heart. I prompted them to remind them to say what job they wanted to have, and expecting similar career aspirations to what my friends held when we were little, I felt surprised not to hear artist, veterinarian, doctor, and teacher show up on in their presentations. They reminded me that I’m not in California anymore when they answered:

  • My boyfriend will pay for everything
  • I want to work at Aeropostale
  • I want to work as at the Lodge (There’s a native reservation nearby that employs many of these kids’ parents)
  • I want to work at the dollar store

I led the girls in clapping for each other when they finished their presentations, but inside, I was crying. You can dream bigger. You have no idea how many things there are in this world, how different life can be from this rural community you’ve grown up in. Instead I told them, “Your collages are beautiful. We are women, and we are capable. We can dream big, and we can achieve our goals!”

Later in the afternoon, one fifth grader told another “f*** you”, and another talked about Norteños.  Two second graders told me they wished they were white, and one boy told me he hadn’t been around for a few weeks because his dad was in jail and he needed to help his mom out at home.

I want them to grow up and accomplish great things, but I am afraid that even if they fulfill their dreams, they will lose out on so much of what life can offer. Even though I’m still trying to figure out my grown up life, I have already had more than what some of these kids will ever have or see or experience. The system is not fair. I’m working to teach them that there is more out there, but resources are limited, and apparently so are their dreams. Tonight I’ll be reading Living Illegal:The Human Fact of Unauthorized Immigration, a sociology book that I picked up a couple weeks ago. I wonder if this book will show me my kids and their families, or if the people in this book will have bigger dreams and brighter futures.

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