I Am A minority By Oscar Garcia

When our Founding Fathers wrote the immortal words in the Declaration of Independence that all men and women are guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, history shows that our country has been called many times to defend its ideals. Each time, brave and selfless men and women have answered the rallying call to keep these guarantees from expiring. I am humbled by the sense of duty, honor and love for country that our service men and women embody. I am grateful for the courageous and valiant sacrifices they make every day to preserve our liberties and freedoms.

Each of us has our own story. Our own struggles. Our own victories. Our own purpose. My purpose is to serve, encourage and help others. Ideals that have been passed on from generation to generation, redefined by my experiences and cemented in my heart from the joy of triumphing over adversity.

I view my community work as a labor of love, and a responsibility to give back to others, as others have given to me. I am a son of Mexican immigrants. My father immigrated to this country in the 1950’s and like many Mexicans at the time, worked in the fields under the Bracero Program. It was through this government work visa program that my father received his green card. For nearly 15 years my father traveled back and forth between the two countries, working several months at a time and then returning to Mexico. I was born in California. Shortly after I was born, we moved to Mexico. Then in 1974, when I was nearly five years old, we returned to California. My mother at the time was an undocumented immigrant. I remember my mother and I waiting in Mexicali, Mexico for nearly 30 days to cross the border illegally and to be reunited with my father. During this time we stayed at a stranger's home waiting for the smuggler to pick us up. The days were long, lonely and full of uncertainty. There were also days of abuse. For you see, the family we were staying with had a teenage son who found it amusing to urinate on me. One day, unexpectedly, the smuggler picked us up and drove my mother and me across the border. After a few months of working in the fields, we moved to Mountain View in search of better opportunities. My father worked as a dishwasher and my mother was a housekeeper.

Like many kids, I grew up wanting a normal life. I wanted to fit-in. I wanted to do things and go places like my friends. But my life was different. Mi cultura was different. Mi familia was different. I spoke a different language. I was told that I was different. I was told that I was a minority. I started kindergarten speaking only Spanish. I was in ESL classes into the 3rd grade. I remember being embarrassed every time my ESL teacher pulled me out of class. Then one day I abruptly stopped going to ESL classes because I didn’t want my friends to know that I needed help learning English.

My 2nd grade teacher introduced me to peanut butter for the first time in health and nutrition class. I remember tasting it on a celery stick and liking it. I was on the free and reduced lunch program. Wanting to fit-in, I asked my mother one day to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. When lunchtime came around, I was excited to eat my own lunch just like my friends. My first clue that this was going to be a lunch to remember, was seeing that my mother packed my lunch in a Wonder Bread bag. I reached deep into the bottom of the bag and pulled my sandwich. I couldn’t wait to bite into my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was happy that I wasn’t going to stand-out that day. As I pulled the sandwich out of the bag, I saw between the two slices of white bread, whole beans sticking out. My mother had made me a whole bean sandwich for lunch! I was shocked! Embarrassed! I quickly shoved my sandwich back in the bag. I wanted to crawl into the bag and be tossed in the garbage.

Have any of you ever worked hard for a promotion? Have you ever worked hard for a promotion, and then told that you received the promotion because you’re a minority? My senior year in high school, my counselor asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated? I had good grades and I was taking college prep classes. No one in my family had gone to college. My dad had a first grade education. My mother finished middle school. I wanted to go to college but I didn’t know where. So my counselor and I looked at the UC schools and I told my counselor that I wanted to go to UC Berkeley because it was close to home, being close to family is very important to us Latinos. I wanted to major in aerospace engineering. Why aerospace engineering? Because I grew up seeing the Blue Angels at Moffett Field and my dad’s friend worked at NASA. My counselor looked at UC Berkeley’s admission requirements for the prior year’s incoming freshmen class and told me that I should not apply to UC Berkeley because my grades and SAT score weren't high enough. Well, my attitude is that when someone tells me I can’t do something, I will try harder to prove you that I can do it. Against my counselor’s recommendation, I applied to UC Berkeley and several other UC schools. Guess what? The first school that accepted me was UC Berkeley. What a feeling! What a victory! In fact, I was accepted to all five of the UC schools that I applied. As admission letters started arriving and word spread among my senior classmates of where everyone was going or not going to college, I heard from some classmates, who felt they were more qualified than me, that the only reason I was accepted to UC Berkeley was because of affirmative action. Because I was a minority.

Today as I reflect on my upbringing, my education, my work experience, my family and my community work, I realize that I am a minority. We tend to associate the word minority with being part of an ethnic group. I am proud of my Mexican heritage. I am proud to stand on the shoulders of many Latino leaders who have gone before me and helped smash the walls of prejudice and discrimination. You and I are indebted to our African American brothers and sisters, our Asian brothers and sisters, our Native American brothers and sisters and anyone who has fought to make good on the promissory note that we are all equally guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I realize that I am a minority because few people, regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender or socioeconomic level, believe they can make a difference. The majority believes they are too busy to make a difference. They believe they need a special talent or education level. They believe they need to know the right people. One person with courage is a majority. God does not make junk. You and I were created for greatness. I realize that whatever my challenge, there is always someone who has overcome the same challenge or greater. It is our attitude to persevere despite the odds. Our willingness to get up one more time than we've been knocked down. Our compassion for others – to see a need and with passion dedicate all our efforts to filling that need, is what sets you and me apart from the majority.

I think of President Kennedy’s words from his inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Today we live in a more complex world. An information world – where we have more information available to us on our cell phones, than mission control had when they first sent man to the moon. A world where the divide between those that have and those that have-not, is rapidly widening. But we also live in a world that has the greatest resource available to humankind to eradicate these inequalities. The greatest of these resources, has always been, and will always be, you and me – the human resource. Today ask not what needs to be done. Ask why it hasn’t been done?.....And do it!

Be Different....Be Yourself

Oscar is Founder & Chief Empowerment Officer of Aspira, a community relations, economic development, and training firm that empowers, engages and educates clients.
Created By
Oscar Garcia

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