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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who Inspires You?

I grew up poor, multiethnic, female and lived in City Heights (and under-developed, “ghetto” neighborhood in San Diego, CA). For my younger years, I went to inner-city public schools where all of the minority teachers taught under a white principal and extra curricular programs were sparse. But still, we were a happy group of minority youngsters…always happy for the chance of a field trip and class party. The teachers I had in elementary were exceptional and knew how to interact with a bunch of inner city kids. For middle and high school my parents had me on a waiting list that secured my admittance into a predominantly white middle and high school, where the teachers were almost all white and favoritism was prevalent in all classrooms. In these schools, if you weren't white or Asian, you would just be swept under the rug and pushed along.
My mom, me, my dad, and my little brother.
Thankfully, I had supportive and hard-working parents who believed the best way for their children to get out of the “cycle” would be to have them work hard and take advantage of opportunities. My mother was born and raised in Mexico, coming to this side to attend middle and high school (education in Mexico isn't free, and with six children and a meager income, my grandparents couldn't afford to send all of their children to school). She knew what a hungry belly felt like and how often there wasn't any money. Additionally, she and her siblings had the burden of taking care of their younger brothers and sisters while their parents worked around the clock to earn a living. While my mom obtained her high school diploma and became a nationalized citizen, she never went to college and has had to work her way up from jobs. My dad has a similar story. He was born and raised in New York City and, with the help of his step dad, learned to love the outdoors. When his step dad moved to San Diego, my dad went along for the ride, and he has never looked back. He was also poor and my step grandfather was stingy. My dad worked around-the-clock at a McDonald’s in high school to pay for food and living expenses. He joined the high school’s JROTC where he met my mother. They married soon after high school and he joined the Army.
Me and my little sister.
Even now, with my parents working modest jobs, we are still considered the “working poor”. They live in a 2 bedroom/1 bathroom house, they pay more taxes than they should, and they somehow still manage to save enough money to send my little brother to a Catholic school and help out family members in tough times.

Of course, I am inspired by my parents.

From my parents I have learned to work hard and to fight against what traditional statistics would have “planned” for me. Yes, I grew up in neighborhoods where crime was common, the were bars on windows and where many opportunities existed to make bad decisions. But, I also realized how much I loved my neighborhood. It made me a thicker skin, and it gave me a taste of life.  With our huge population of Hispanics, Somalians, Vietnamese, Ethiopians, Indians and other immigrants there were always authentic and cheap restaurants to try and cultural celebrations to be a part of.
Teaching a group of summer camp girls to surf.
My parents instilled a strict set of values into us. Thankfully, it worked wonderfully. I never became the pregnant fifteen-year-old at school. I never joined a gang or had the desire to. I have never stolen or committed crimes. I worked hard in school, and wanted more out of life. Some teachers and adults saw my potential and encouraged me to step out of the stereotype. In 8th grade I was the only Mexican student to travel to the East Coast on a week-long field trip exploring our country’s roots. A scholarship paid for the trip, and I won awards for my work during the trip. In high school, I worked liked a dog to raise money in order to go on trips to Germany and Australia. In 2010, I saved money and went to live and work in Italy. I was at every event I could possibly manage to be at in San Diego that involved cultural enrichment and the chance to make friends with other People of Color.
A group of inner-city high school girls (except me, I'm on the right in pink) that we took to a conference.
I am also inspired by people like me. I am here because I want to pursue a career that allows me to be of service and inspiration to other inner city youth with similar backgrounds. Aside from SeaWorld, Jamba Juice and the two jobs I work know, all of my others jobs have been working with children and youth from low-income schools. I have taught them to dream, to be outspoken and to question everything. Many of those students still keep in contact and it’s great to see them grow and create bigger dreams. Working with my mom, we have been able to save our own money to take some of these youth to restaurants, events, workshops and retreats they would have never otherwise been able to attend because of absent parents (who work all the time) and financial burden. 
Taking girls to a Ren Faire (I'm in the middle)
Working with our family members, we have been able to give prom dresses to girls who couldn't afford them and mini-scholarships to guys who wanted to date their dates out to dinner. I remember having the house full of high school girls, music playing in the background, while my mom, sister and I worked to get hair and make up done. Sure, it’s hard and sometimes was frustrating. But, I couldn't shake the feeling that all of these little moments matter. When you are poor, when your parents are gone and when you are forced to sacrifice your youth to act as a stand-in parent for your younger siblings, every little thing matters. Many of these high-schoolers are already in college, all dependent on scholarships and any income they work for.
Working with Boy Scouts in the Anza-Borrego Desert.
And then, there is my brother. My sneaky, quirky, awesome, and nearly twelve little brother.
Our cousin Israel and my little brother Sean (on right)
Sean, my darling little brother is the light of my life. I love all of my family and friends, but my little brother has his own special place in my heart.

He is a normal kid who loves Star Wars, drawing, building Lego models of Star Wars ships, and he’s an active soccer player and Boy Scout. Luckily, and thankfully, he hasn't had to grow up in some of the difficult conditions my sister and I experienced. He loves international foods, likes to travel (the little sucker has already been to Spain, Morocco and Hawaii!!), and to geek out on video games. He also has a heart of gold and loves to take care of animals and be charitable to those less fortunate (when our family goes to Mexico to cook food and donate clothes and items, Sean always makes sure to pick out toys, shoes and clothes to give to the children).

Sean is my greatest inspiration because I never want to have him suffer or to know hardship. My parents have done a good job with him, but with working a lot and getting older, their energy isn't what it used to be. When I used to live in San Diego, before moving to Prescott, I would make it a point to do things with my brother on the weekends or whenever I had time and a little extra money. We’d go on hikes, or play in the park. I’d take him to lunch (usually it was sushi) just so we could stuff our faces with green tea ice cream, and loved to hear what he had to say on certain matters (he’s very opinionated). We would spend afternoons just drawing or playing silly games. On his birthdays, I would dress up as something relating to his party theme (I have been a pirate twice, a soldier three times, spiderwoman, and Padme Amidala). We often baked and cooked together (he was eager to learn) and he was never shy about experimenting in the kitchen. When I was involved in Scouts (as a Venture Crew member) and brought back pictures and stories, he wanted to join (and did). When  I worked at summer camps, I got a discount for him to attend, and he was there. When I traveled, he warned me against doing certain things (“Angelica, when you get to Australia, don’t go in the water, the sharks are very mean) and to remind me to bring him back something (coins, puzzles, and “artifacts”).

I know that he’s doing great (I FaceTime him on my iPhone often), because he tells me often what he’s doing and interested in. Always, towards the end of the conversation he asks “Angelica, when are you coming home?”. It’s hard to answer, because I've only been home twice in the last two years. “As soon as I can, baby”. He’s gotten a little more “grown-up” each time I talk to him, but, at the end of our conversations I ask him “Sean, how much do I love you”, and he always replies “From here to the moon, plus infinity, and back”. And when he says “I love you and miss you, sister”, I know our conversation is done and we’ll both go back to our lives until the next phone call.

I want the best for my little brother. Period. And that’s mostly why I am here. I want to give children like him, like us and like my parents a fighting chance. When I graduate in May, I want to be able to have made my parents, brother, family and friends proud. To say “Yes! I did it!”. I got my college degree while working two jobs and taking out student loans, in a state that continuously passes laws to oppress my people and gender. I want to be the teacher that makes it in an inner city schools because I relate to the students and have real opportunities to offer them. Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it.

A final word of advice to all the people out there with a similar story: NEVER settle for anything less than what you deserve. If you want to travel, work hard and make it happen. If you want to go to college, believe you will, work hard, and make it happen. Never let anyone or anything else define or confine you! Go out into the world, be brave and do great things. Be more than the cycle you are stuck in or the statistics of your neighborhood.
Angelica R. Brady 2.27.2013

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