If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told “Wow, you’re so lucky you’re Hispanic and your parents don’t make that much money, you must qualify for, like, so many scholarships,” I wouldn’t actually need the scholarships. What I hear is “Hey, you don’t receive the same opportunities and privileges as I do so it must me great to receive a stepping stool to reach barely half of what I am able to!” Newsflash: that stepping stool is not some free gift that’s just handed to you. For some reason non-marginalized people believe some degree of oppression and inequality buys you a pass to an easy life, a notion that slaps me on the daily and that I’ve yet to understand. By attributing our success to our identities you invalidate our efforts and insult our struggle.
Let me tell why I’m actually not lucky to be a minority/low-income/first generation immigrant/student, but before I do that let me tell you about the people who belittled my choices in colleges I was applying to because I was “aiming too high,” insinuating skepticism towards my abilities and in turn causing me to doubt myself. Let me tell you about the number of colleges that rejected me because of my resident status and intentionally denied me an opportunity based on something that was out of my control.Let me tell you about the nights I spent quietly crying in the bathroom trying to determine how exactly I was going to pay for college when I knew my parents were virtually unable to contribute even a small percentage. Let me tell you about the complete hopelessness I felt when trying to learn how to fill out the FAFSA and other important forms because I had nobody to teach me how to interpret and duplicate the information on my parents’ tax returns.
Let me tell you about how I can’t even decipher what I’m typing right now because recalling every obstacle I’ve been faced with and continue to face brings tears to my eyes because it’s just not fair. We’ve never asked to be put in this situation of adversity. We’ve never asked to take on so much responsibility at such a young age and with such a lack of direction. We’ve never asked to be placed in a perpetual state of uncertainty about things that our peers don’t even have to think twice about, but I’m supposed to believe I’m “lucky.”
Suppose we do have access to a wider array of scholarships and opportunities: had we been given the same political and economic opportunities as our counterparts we probably wouldn’t need them to be able to afford college. And suppose colleges did pick minorities over white students based on affirmative action: had we been given the same social opportunities and equal treatment as our counterparts years back we probably wouldn’t have a problem with unequal access to a higher education. The problem is equality versus equity. While equality is supposed to treat everybody the same it renders useless when those who are disadvantaged are still left behind; there is still an element of unfairness. It’s like giving everybody an extra ice cream scoop, except some already have six scoops and some don’t have a spoon and some don’t even have a bowl to place the ice cream in. What do you do then? With equity everybody is given exactly what they need in order to succeed and be allowed to participate in the same playing field regardless of discrepancies in the amounts of assistance given. Equity attempts to make up for the injustices that society’s systematic barriers have created, and this of course will seem unfair to those who are already better off, but until these systematic barriers are removed it is the only solution to allowing minorities the opportunities to get ahead and move upwards economically and socially.
You say life isn’t supposed to be fair or cater to everybody’s needs but that does not mean I should go hungry trying to have equal access to education and, more importantly, the resources and tools to make the most of that education. So instead of complaining that you’re not as “lucky” as I am how about you use that energy to eradicate these barriers that justify this large demand for aid for minorities in the first place.
All of this doesn’t even begin to explain how my “luck” was ineffective once I actually got into college and how it didn’t fix the times I felt utterly unprepared, incapable, and alone. My “luck” didn’t explain how I was to afford books, food, and basic necessities on an extremely limited budget, and it definitely didn’t help with my lack of confidence when everybody else around me didn’t seem to even have to worry about said budget. Where was this “luck” when I had nobody to turn to when I didn’t understand where to go or what to do to be successful in class because I did not have somebody to explain how to navigate college? Or when everybody else around me seemed to breeze through life and all I saw was failure after failure with no improvement? It was not luck that magically placed me in the position I’m in today, it was the tears and mistakes and lonely nights that I had to endure to learn how to navigate college and also succeed outside of the classroom.
This belief that being disadvantaged is actually an advantage is tired and offensive. Our hard work is trivialized, and to receive recognition for applying the same effort as our counterparts we actually have to exert twice the amount of labor in half the amount of time. Before we even reach a certain age we’re already labeled under a certain stereotype that we unconsciously stratify ourselves into, and unless you deliberately program your brain to break out of those chains you’re doomed to become a victim of these injustices. All because you were born a certain race, raised into a certain socioeconomic status, and other factors that you never got make a decision on. And you believe that because my family sometimes couldn’t make a car payment or had to skimp on groceries for weeks at a time I am “lucky.”
I am not lucky and it’s not fair, but when misfortune knocks us down we have never let it keep us down. Because we have encountered moments of crises and adjusted to discomfort we are able to push through challenging times and have learned that we have no other option but to rise back up when we’ve been knocked down failure. It is faith that keeps us going and the need to escape the limitations we grew up with. It is hunger and thirst and a desire to prove to ourselves that it was not all in vain. If you’re immigrants it is the constant reminder that there have been countless of sacrifices made for you to be in the position that you are in right now, sacrifices that were not easy and changed the course of peoples’ lives. It is that voice inside your head that tells you that this is only the beginning, and the vision in your heart of the person you want to embody and the achievements you want to exhibit. Maybe in this sense we are a little lucky. Our adversities propel us to move forward and create a better life for our families and future generations who will embody the same situations. We are fighters and dreamers and doers, and we still practice humility and an open-minded demeanor.