Sunday, October 14, 2007

Not Poor By Choice.

Until recently, I believed that poverty was a choice. How can I be so insensitive? Okay, a little history of my childhood. I was born to a mother who is an (legal) immigrant and a United States Citizen father. At the age of 12, my parents divorced. I am the oldest brother of 3 and when dad left, I had to become that "dad" to my siblings.

My mother, like many immigrants, worked in the agriculture field. Yes, she picked, packed and clean our everyday produce. She would get up at 4 a.m. and not be home until 7 p.m. So, I, as the oldest, had to step up to the plate and help my mother. I made sure that my brother and sister did their homework, finished their chores and I had the responsibility to feed them cause mom was at work. Yeah, that is a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old. Not to mention that I also worked picking green beans and in the lettuce fields to help bring in income. Yes, at the age of 12.

Some nights, not many, for dinner we would have bread with mayonnaise and mustard. If we were lucky, we would get some kind of meat with that. Granted, this wasn't an everyday thing, but it happened. I grew up realizing that when food was on the table, it was time to appreciate. I also learned that when there wasn't, hard times were just around the corner for my siblings and I. I think I worried more about them than I did for myself.

While going to High School, I was the one who couldn't go any where with my friends. The one who had to borrow deodorant at gym from my friends, 3 pair of underwear and if I was luck, 3 pair of pants. Yeah, poor! Being poor wasn't by choice. The man who called himself my father could have kept us afloat but made it a point not to pay child support.

Just the other day, I was looking at my moms Social Security Earnings statement. She made $7000 when I was 12 and then hovered around $14,000. Yeah, that much to raise three children, and a house payment. Granted this was back in the 80's through 91, when I graduated high school. With that income, there wasn't much left for extras.

I remember my mother telling me, "You will not work during the school year, school is more important right now." With that sacrifice, I would study as hard as I could to graduate. After graduation, I joined the Army and would send my mom $200 a month to help pay the mortgage on the house. The very same house we worked hard to not lose to foreclosure twice!

Now, I am a successful man with a beautiful family and a great wife. No, really, I married the almost perfect wife. As we all know, we can't be perfect, but she comes close.

So as I became the man that I am now, I would get so upset at people that would complain. "Its the government's fault." "Its the man keeping me down." I would get so upset that I would actually open my mouth. I would tell people about my story. My feelings were that they had the same opportunity as I to get an education and become someone. Yes, I grew in a bad neighborhood. I had a friend shot in the face, drug dealing in my front yard and drive by shooting at friend's homes. Statistically, being Latino, I was supposed to be in jail.

I still feel the same way today, but understand that in some instances, people do have an influence on other people. Friends that I went to school, whose parents had money, are in jail now. What can be the influence on young people? While governments, racism, and social disparities have an influence, I feel that the ultimate decider is the man or woman.

Having gone through what I have gone, I still don't understand why. I guess I am no sociology major. To me, excuses are made to justify laziness. Its off of those excuses that laziness lives off of. Really, it is easier to suck off of Uncle Sam than it is to make $6 and hour. When I started working, I was making $3.15 an hour. We did okay with that.

My motto throughout life is, "Being poor was not my choice, not being poor is."

While there are outside influences in a person's life, there is always room for growth no matter what those influences are. I guess my mother's work ethic was passed on to us. All my siblings are successful professionals and make a middle class income.

This is my

Thanks to Jesse for hooking me up with this picture.

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