Do you ever wonder what life would be like had you taken another path? Last week I had the opportunity to go back to volunteer at my old elementary school in East Side San Jose. While there, I was very nostalgic but also thought about what my life would have been like if I had stayed in the area.
My co-workers and I were asked to judge a science fair and we were escorted into the cafeteria with all the projects. The cafeteria brought back so many memories-this is where we’d hold our performances and awards ceremonies (and of course eat terrible cafeteria food). I have a vivid memory of learning, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” in the 1st grade and singing it for a crowd of proud parents for a Christmas pageant.
The awards ceremonies every quarter were my favorite. I always made it to Honor Roll and it always made my parents really proud. Those ceremonies were always during the middle of the day, like 10am or 2pm, but either one or both of my parents would always be there to watch me receive it. They must’ve seen me go up there a thousand times, but each time, they couldn’t be prouder and they always had to take pictures with me.
While visiting, I actually had the chance to see my 2nd grade teacher. The first thing she said to me was, “Do you have your doctorate now?” I chuckled but was also humbled that she thought so highly of me at such a young age.
I thought, what would’ve happened if I stayed in East Side? When I moved over to Catholic school, I quickly realized how different I was. My teacher reprimanded me on my first couple days there because I swore so much. I didn’t even realize I swore that much! Being in East Side made it normal to speak and carry myself in that way. At the time, I still kept in touch with some friends from East Side but I heard that some got into gangs, got pregnant, or simply dropped out of school. I tried my best to maintain these friendships but after awhile, it became clear that I no longer had anything in common with them. I’d gotten ‘out’ of East Side.
Despite all that, I’m grateful for having lived there because I was able to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to provide more for me. They were very strategic too, and made sure that they moved my life and social sphere away from East Side. Because of that one move, I’ve been privileged to attend some of the best schools, receive a stellar education, and now have a kickass job working for a startup as part of the Silicon Valley technorati. I don’t know if all that would have been possible if I had stayed in East Side.
Giving back to the community, especially to my own school, meant a lot to me. Although they say that East Side has gotten better over the years, it will always make me wary. My family has been the victim of crime and violence a handful of times while we lived there. Our cars have been broken into, property has been stolen, I’ve been harassed, my brother has been shot at for driving and helping a complete stranger (our truck to this day still has bullet holes in it) and worst of all, my uncle was killed by a deranged driver while he was walking at the park close to my house.
Still, growing up in East Side has positively shaped me. Obviously, I tend towards ghetto fabulousness, my first musical loves will always be hip-hop and R&B, and I have a big heart for giving charity to the underprivileged. I think, however, the main facets of someone living in a poor area are to have a little irreverence, a great deal of resilience, and a lot of heart. I have to thank my parents and my grandma. They did all the heavy lifting. They made it out of East Side. Me? I’m just here making them proud.