Recognize your Privilege

I grew up on the southern tip of Texas, just 30 minutes from the Mexican border. For all I knew, I lived a perfectly normal all-American life. I enjoyed riding my bike with the neighborhood kids on hot sunny days and taking a break from the Texas heat in my wonderfully cool air-conditioned home with ice cold kool-aid from the fridge. We had a live-in housekeeper who kept everything immaculate for us. I had no idea what it was like to clean up after or cook for myself.  My mom cooked beautiful meals for us everyday, including, among many others, pollo guisado (chicken stew) with her heavenly Mexican rice, fried chicken with mashed potatoes and corn, and when we were sick or it was cold she made us her comforting caldo de pollo or de res (Mexican chicken or beef soup).

I had a perfect life and looking back I was and still am privileged. I thought everything that I was given came easily and adulthood has slapped me with the reality that it absolutely did not come easy. Especially, for my Chicano parents who were the first generation in their families to get college degrees. My privilege came at the expense of their hard work as well as the expense of our amazing housekeeper who left her family in Mexico and sent almost all of her money to her family so that they could have a better life. It paid off, her hard work gave her daughter an education in Mexico that led to her becoming a nurse. She sacrificed her entire life with her daughter to give her and her future grandchildren a chance at a better life.

I think it was in high school that I finally became fully aware of my privilege. I was at an age to have more freedom and see what other lives were like. Not everyone, especially not all people of color, had the same things I had. Many people that looked like me had much harder lives than I did, especially those just 30 minutes away from me, on the other side of the border. When we would go to Mexico for some shopping and great food, I started to really see the mothers on the sidewalks clinging to their babies asking for coins with a little cup, grateful for a DIME! Children doing their best to sell chiclets (gum candy), or even sing for money. I started to wonder what I would do as a mother if I had to watch my children have to beg in dangerous streets to survive. I only knew what it was to thrive, I never knew what it was like just to survive.

I am writing this to say we need to know our privilege and recognize the struggles that others have. Things that we take for granted like access to education, nutritious food, and an air-conditioned home are things that people wish they had the chance to work towards. Some people no matter how hard they work simply do not have access to the chances most of us are privileged to have.

There are even issues that may seem menial to some of us, like hair. There are laws being put into place to protect people of color for being discriminated against for their hair. Who cares about hair, right? Well I know that when I’m having a bad hair day I can do some dry shampoo and pull it up in a quick bun. But many people of color have hair textures that require much more care, work and money to style. If you ever find yourself unable to understand why some people take great risks for their families or why rules and laws need to be made please take the time to educate yourself on their struggle before casting them off as wrong or frivolous. Issues that seem small to us can mean so much to someone else.

That’s not to say we need to apologize for our privileges and luxuries we work hard for, but it is important to recognize that not everyone is able to enjoy these same privileges and we should not hold people back from doing what they can to not just survive but thrive the way we do.

And let’s always be grateful for the struggles that came before us that enabled us to enjoy the luxuries of life. I thank my parents for continuing their education in a time when Hispanics weren’t encouraged to do so, for going to night school to receive a Master’s degree while maintaining a career in education and a family of four girls at home. And for using their career to reach as many children as possible to take full advantage of their education and strive for more in life as well.

Y gracias a Marisela, yo se que a veces fui muy chiflada y aun grosera. Pero yo siempre te ame con todo mi corazon. Eres una de las mujeres mas fuertes que he tenido el placer de conocer en mi vida. Gracias por todo tus sacrificios. Te amo!

– Risa


2 thoughts on “Recognize your Privilege

  1. Love this piece! It’s amazing the amount of sacrifice the generations before us were willing to endure for us, even before we existed. My grandmother was not allowed to even finish elementary school, and was not valued by her family. And yet she created a family that is almost all women, who have taken care of business, been independent, sacrificed for each other, given their children a more privileged life (while still saving every butter container and salt packets from take out. She taught us important lessons like to never leave tortillas on the table at the restaurants. Thanks to her every one of us has at least one college degree. What she had to do to make that happen we won’t ever fully know, but we know she wanted so much more for all of us.

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