How to Acknowledge Privilege

I am a 28 year old Latina. I’ve never experienced overt racism or systemic racism but I have experienced micro aggressions. I consider myself privileged. Here’s why:

I grew up in a good neighborhood, had access to good schools, and was brought up and supported by two parents. My parents were able to afford private catholic school for me for grades K-8. I had the option to choose which high school I wanted to go to: another private high school or the local public school. It didn’t matter which one I chose, I would get a good education. I was then able to go to college to get a B.A. and an M.F.A without being bogged down by student debt. My parents graciously paid for my undergraduate education and helped me pay for my masters. I have a job and I get to keep every dollar that I make. I live with my parents, rent free, without having to be a burden on them (I do pay for most of my own expenses). This is allowing me to grow my own wealth. One day, when both of my parents pass, I will inherit their wealth and their property. This will allow me (and my sister) to one day pass this wealth onto our descendants, if we choose to have them.

Of course, I am able to have all this because I worked hard and, more notably, my parents worked hard.

However, I can’t help but think how my life would have been if I, or my parents, or even my grandparents, didn’t make the decisions we made. Or simply didn’t have choices at all.

My mom immigrated into this country when she was only 7. She didn’t speak a word of English and had to work ten times harder so that she could get the lesson and learn English – without the help of her parents. My grandpa worked himself to death in order for his children to go to a private catholic school and college. My grandma was the one who insisted they moved to the U.S. in the first place, because she knew that was how they would have a better life.

I know I wouldn’t be here today if my mom’s family hadn’t moved. I know I wouldn’t be here if my mom didn’t make the “right” decisions and was determined to make a better life for herself.

My dad was born here, but his dad never finished high school. At the beginning of my dad’s high school career, my grandpa sat him down and told him that it was important to finish high school. My dad not only wanted to graduate from high school, but also wanted to go to college.

And he did. And he was able to get a job soon after graduation. That job turned into a 37 year career.

I know I wouldn’t be here today if my dad didn’t set his sights higher than high school (especially since college is where my parents met). But I also know I wouldn’t be here if my dad didn’t make the “right” decisions.

I keep saying “right” decisions, because that’s how we validate the American Dream in this country. If you make all the “right” decisions, then you can make it, you can be successful, have a comfortable life.

But remember, my parents are Hispanic as well. What if, because of their race and/or gender, something happened to them or they ended up in a different situation that prevented them from having access to choices in the first place?

What if my dad was incarcerated? Let’s just say, for a crime he didn’t commit (because that happens a lot to Black and brown men). If this happened at any point in his life, with me already in it or not, no doubt it would have lasting effects.

What if my mom had an unplanned pregnancy out of wedlock? Would she have support from her family? I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. Would there be a father figure? I don’t know. But I do know that her life would have been very different. I do know that being a single mother or having kids too young brings an onslaught of judgement by society. And she would have gotten that for just being a woman. It adds another layer with her being Mexican.

I’m not so detached from realizing I have privilege because my mom and my grandparents are immigrants. I know that everything I have is because of them and what they did. But I also know that my life would be very different if I didn’t have choices available to me.

While you may dismiss this as just hard work and pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, we could have easily ended up in a spot where we didn’t have opportunities, didn’t have the “right” choices, didn’t have those bootstraps. Because of where we come from and our skin color, everything could have been taken from us.

I encourage you to think deep about the privilege that you have. What has made your life easier than others? What choices were you given so that you could have the life you do now? Keep in mind not everyone has access to that.

So what does one do with the newly realized privilege that they have? You use it to help others that don’t have access to opportunities like you do. Advocate for change that supports the those in need. Donate to charities that support those on the outskirts of society.

This is how we make wealth truly grow in America. What could our country look life if everyone had choices?

The Play Equity Fund is dedicated to supporting programs and actions to ensure all kids have equal access to sport and structured play.”

Everyone knows sports is a great way to get kids active and for them to learn discipline, while keeping them busy and off the streets. Poorer families are less likely to participate in sports, as it can be expensive, as well as for other reasons. Please donate what you can.

This fund is based in L.A. but I encourage you to find one similar in your area.

Brown Reflections

I was born and raised in the US and, like millions of people here, I come from a Mexican heritage. Though I’ll admit, I do feel more American and identify less with my Mexican heritage.

My experience with my Mexican heritage involves making tamales with my family for Christmas (although I wasn’t much a fan of tamales at first). And one of my favorite memories was making tortillas with my maternal grandma.

I know basic Spanish but can’t carry much of a conversation with my remaining grandparent. Both my parents speak Spanish but they only taught me English growing up. I remember the first time I was judged for not being taught Spanish by my parents. (Yes, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t – from both sides.)

Pretty much most of what I learned about being Mexican came from meeting other Latinx people and taking Spanish class. Even schools skim over Mexican involvement in US history. Cesar Chavez can be covered in just a chapter.

Luckily, I can turn to my family to find out about their experiences of being Mexicans in this country, as well as how they came here. I once did an oral project for a college history course and I interviewed my paternal grandpa. He came to the US with his family at 12 years old and was able to get his citizenship while he was serving in the army during the Korean War.

I recently read Macho! by Victor Villaseñor. I love reading his books because his characters are strong and complex. He also writes with so much passion. A lot of his stories are about his family and his own experiences (highly recommend Rain of Gold, Thirteen Senses and Burro Genius).

Macho! was about a boy who decided to come to California to work the fields, with hope of making money to help take care of his family back in Mexico. Think, the Mexican version of The Grapes of Wrath. It took place at the height of Cesar Chavez’s movement to unionize the field workers. I was in awe of what those men went through to try to make a better life for themselves.

It reminded me of hearing about how my grandma did everything she could to come to the states because otherwise, she would’ve been stuck living in a poor ranch in Mexico.

It also made me think. With the presidential election coming up later this year, one of the major topics that gets covered is immigration. What do we do with illegal immigrants?

This topic is more nuanced than we give it credit for. There are many ways to think about the situation and on top of that, there are many situations within immigration.

I think it would help to learn more about the Mexican experience of coming to this country in order to, in the very least, appreciate the complexity of the problem. There should even be more information about the experiences of other minorities as well, like the Chinese (who disappear from U.S. History even more).

I’ll even admit, I don’t know what to think about immigration, and wouldn’t know where to start. (But perhaps going to each party’s policy page will be a first step.) Not to mention, there’s just an overload of information and opinions on both sides.

See, I am your average American in more ways than one.

Do you identify with your heritage at all? What have you learned about your family’s experiences? Any good books you’ve read that made you think more about where you come from? Any thoughts on immigration? Do you prefer Cool Whip or whipped cream?