El Que Quiere Puede: The Myth Of Education Only For Some

So boy, don’t you turn back. / Don’t you set down on the steps / ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. / Don’t you fall now — / For I’se still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’, / And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.   – Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

El Sueño

I discovered this poem at some point during my teenage years and from the very first time I read the words out loud, they spoke to me.  Touched me.  Made me feel things I’d never felt before.  Like they immediately became engraved into who I was supposed to be.  Even though I hadn’t the slightest clue what or who that was.  And how could they not?  My life till then had been nothing more than sacrifice – the sacrifices of my parents, their parents, my siblings, my cousins, my uncles, and everyone else in between.

If you didn’t work hard you’d never get ahead.  That’s just the way it was.  Black and white. No gray area to ponder.  We knew the language.  That meant we’d made it just a step ahead of everyone else – including my parents – and that was good enough.  A high school diploma, as good as any four year degree!  We weren’t the Tanners, the Strattons, the Bradys or even the Winslows from TV.  In all honestly, we were more like the Beverly Hillbillies than anything else…except we didn’t have the millions of dollars they did from all that black gold.

So college was never really a subject matter up for any serious discussion in our home.  My parents wanted us to get an education, they did, but they knew as well as we did that there was no money for a college education, much less for seven of them.

Fast forward just a few years later…and there we were.  Me in a tie and suit, my sister in a black cocktail dress, both of us in our caps and gowns, our yellow tassels to one side, feeling hundreds of emotions all at once, wondering to ourselves how the hell we got here at all?

Right there, with the orchestra playing, our nervous walk into the stadium, the thousands of people cheering from their bleachers, our eyes searching everywhere for our family; in that one instant, all I had were memories.  There was the spanking with the wooden paddle I’d gotten in kindergarten from Ms. Keller for spitting out my water; the blur of our saying goodbye to our elementary school teachers after being deported; the marching to the beat of “mexicanos al grito de guerra” in Mexico; the fear of entering the fifth grade in a brand new city; my only friend Ambrosia that same year; running the halls in middle school to get away from Slim, our school’s security guard, when we were skipping; the warmth of Mrs. Quirk’s encouragement; my English teacher telling me I should be a writer; my art teacher yelling at me for getting gum on her skirt; my counselor at Eisenhower High School telling me I wasn’t going to graduate if I didn’t start coming to class; all of the Tejano dances we had in our cafeteria; and then, the sound of my sister’s high heels running down the hall, always a few minutes late, to the few classes we did take together at the University of Houston.

They called her name.  And then my own.  There!  It was done.  After well over four years of studying and working, staying up late, taking all kinds of crazy shifts, crashing for one exam after another, just like that, we were college graduates.   I didn’t feel any different, but I could see it all in my parents’ eyes.

Langston Hughes came back to me, word for word.

Note from the Author:
This post is dedicated to all of the young people out there, who just like me, have struggled with their higher education dreams at one point or another, and is also part of the Latinos In Social Media (LATISM)-Univision partnership to create awareness about Es El Momento.  Es El Momento is a comprehensive, multi-year national education initiative created by Univision Communications Inc., in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, as well as educators and civic and community leaders from around the country, with the aim to improve academic achievement among K-12 Hispanic students with a specific focus on high school graduation and college readiness.  For more information on Es El Momento visit www.eselmomento.com

20 thoughts on “El Que Quiere Puede: The Myth Of Education Only For Some

  1. Awesome, brother. An education means much, much more when you have to work to pay for it. The trust-fund set’ll never know that feeling.

    Keep on keepin’ on, m’friend.

  2. Great post Juan, brings back so many memories. Thanks for letting the older sibling (me) walk first and technically being the first in our family to graduate from college…even though J comes before M and they did call your name first. Very sweet and classy.

    1. Thanks, Tina! And I would not have dared walk ahead of you. My sister from whom I learned so much along the way. You walking ahead of me was the way it was supposed to happen and how many other people can share that moment with someone they love so much? It was fate I think 🙂

  3. Wow! Powerful words and word pictures, hermano! i can totally relate and it makes me swell w/ pride. It’s like a rapid fire movie sped up replaying in your mind’s eye. Certain memories and tensions tweak your muscles when you think of cramming, odd shifts, lack of money, and the anxiety you feel. But still able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    I applaud you, your parents, and your teachers and support groups who helped, pinched and kicked you along the way!

    1. Joe, there was a lot of pinching, pushing and kicking along the way, believe me…and when I think back to everything it took to get there, I honestly don’t know how I did it – sheer determination I guess. But still at the end of the day, it’s a piece of paper, nothing more. Not a declaration that one is better than the rest…just access to more opportunities. That is important to me.

  4. What great memories! I know what you mean, from elementary to high school it felt like school would last FOREVER. But college was a whole new experience. For some, college was a fun party. For me, it was a struggle…something that I wanted to quit every semester. But my parents were not college graduates, so I had to keep on going until the bitter end. And when it was finally over, I almost couldn’t believe that I had, indeed, actually accomplished my goal. The ceremony was pretty much a blur. In the end, I glad I did it, but it wasn’t easy. More importantly, if I hadn’t, my life would be even difficult. I’m glad you listened to that English teacher. She’d be proud. 🙂

    1. Aww, thanks Victory! I often wonder if she would be 🙂 And yes, that light at the end of the tunnel sometimes just did not seem to be there. So many times I wanted to quit, but something inside me told me I couldn’t…at the very least it was the most I could do for what my parents had tried to give me. Now, like you, I am very happy I kept going.

  5. ¡Tienes un don, hermano! Your journey to get to the point you outline in this piece is inspirational and I hope and pray that others about to begin their journeys read past your well written words and extract the emotion and power that comes with completing their education as you have! ¡Enhorabuena y mil gracias por compartir esto! 😀

    1. Tony, gracias hermano! That is really my hope, that some or any part of my experiences, can inspire others to know that they can achieve their higher education goals if they want to.

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. High self-esteem and determination is evident. I’m the first college grad of my family and know very well what it takes… so proud of you!

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