Monday, March 13, 2017

Confronting my Privilege

I can’t get their faces out of my mind. The children we teach in Mexico are so happy, so joyful, so eager. I see their happy, smiling faces in spite of all they lack and I wonder, how?

Despite needing work, the cheerful color of the one-room schoolhouse greets us each week.

I grew up in a warm home with plenty of toys at my disposal. I never wanted for food or wondered where my next meal would come from. I had easy access to clean water for drinking and bathing and I always had new clothes. I had the opportunity for a top notch education, which satiated my eagerness to learn. I had parents who encouraged me and always wanted the best for me. And I knew I was loved. I had a happy childhood. Because my childhood included both love and material wealth, I have a hard time separating my happiness as a child from either of these things. That is a part of my privilege.

During my time here on the border, I have the privilege of teaching English to some children in Mexico. These children are all extended family and live in a colonia. A colonia, a Spanish word meaning neighborhood, is established on land outside of the boundaries of the city and may or may not have water or sewage, since the city is not required to provide them. The owners of this land sell small plots to families who then build whatever they can afford. Sometimes, it is a proper house, others it is a trailer, and other times the dwelling is only a shack. The children I teach live in one-room cinderblock dwellings with tin roofs. They run around in the dirt road and play with their grandparents’ chickens. Their parents have to buy 5 gallon jugs of water because the water at the colonia is not safe to drink. And, the children know they are loved. Their parents sacrifice for them, even taking time out of their day to teach them so they do not have to go so far to the government school. These children have a happy childhood.

Setting up the classroom so we can teach two different sets of children. The classroom walls are bright and full of learning tools, the alphabet, numbers, and behavior charts.

Somehow I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that these children lack so much that I had, some that I even deem as essentials, and yet, they are still so happy. “They don’t know any better.” is a phrase I often hear and say about children like this. But after seeing their joy I think, do they even need to know better? Actually, is all that I had as a child better than what these children have?

My initial reaction was one that you probably had after reading about the lives of these children, pity. I wanted to fix everything. I thought they should have everything I did, toys, candy, cookies, formal education, new clothes, running water, houses with doors and air conditioning, in order to be happy. If I had these things and was happy, then they must be necessary, right? After my initial reaction, I took the time to really observe the children and their families. They are … happy. Despite all their poverty, despite the challenges, they are happy. So, there has to be something wrong with my preconception a happy childhood. They know better than I do what they need. I NEED to listen to them. What really stands out to me is, these children are loved. And they know it! Their parents want the best for them, and which is why we were asked to teach English.

Confronting poverty head-on in Texas and Mexico has had an unintended consequence of confronting my privilege. I have the privilege of being born a US Citizen. I have the privilege of a good education. I have the privilege of being born into an upper-middle class family who loves me and cares for me. My idea of a good childhood looks very different than the reality of the majority of childhoods in the world. My preconception of poverty is that it is bad. While it is important to make sure all people have what they need to live, maybe there is some wisdom in poverty. A wisdom of simplicity, a wisdom of love. And we, as people privileged to walk alongside the poor, need to listen to this wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Nicole, for this heartfelt insight into a reality that few of us can even fathom. It makes me pause to consider what really is essential for happiness. God bless your work and your experience.