By Becca Hurliman, written before her departure in early September
Yesterday I walked in the rain with a student, sharing an umbrella and having a conversation about the future. When will you come back? she asks. Well, I say, I have to go home and work to save some more money. Todo el mundo dice eso (Everyone says that), she replies. And they never come back? I ask. The look on her face gives me the sad answer I was expecting.
She’s a bright girl with 11 years and a lot of potential. I want the best for her. She’s going to colegio next year, and she’ll most likely be moving a ways away to do so. She wants to go to high school, but she doesn’t want to move, leaving her family and friends in Potrero. Unfortunately, high schools are an hour away from Potrero and public schools are riddled with a variety of problems. I’m not a mom, but I am beginning to understand the concern a parent has for their child when I think about her and her future.
The beginning of one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby, begins with these sentences:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
I am far from criticizing her or anyone else in this small town that I have very much grown to love. But I am painfully struck with the inequality that has been parceled out at birth. I, too, was born in a small rural town in an area with a high poverty rate. However, I was born to parents that had more opportunity than many others. And I was born a white, U.S. citizen who was able to graduate from college last spring. These things put me in a very privileged category.
And what is the correct response to such unchosen circumstances? My flight is next week. I’ll move back to Chicago. I’ll think about her and the other kids often, especially near the end of the year when they finish school and move on to the next grade. I’ll keep teaching and tutoring kids when I can. And I will continue to hope that she keeps using the brilliant brain she was given, and that her pleasant personality will help to bring good friends into her life during her first year of colegio. And perhaps I will make a stronger effort than I otherwise would have to return to Potrero.