Think of this as a postcard from the other Los Angeles.
Not the weather-is-great-wish-you-were-here variety, but the let-me-out-of-here-I-deserve-better kind.
It’s from the crowded immigrant neighborhoods south and east of the Civic Center. And its authors are junior-high-school students taking part in the Campaign for College Opportunity.
They write candidly and insightfully about their hopes and frustrations, and they write to an audience that they imagine has the power to change their lives.
“Like most families in South L.A.,” writes one ninth-grader, “my parents don’t have money to send me to college.”
If given the chance, he says, he could prove “everyone wrong that people from South L.A. can succeed in life just like other people who have resources for their education.”
These high-school freshmen were laying out for a stranger’s eyes the calculus of violence and loss, of stark choices and limited horizons.
“If you don’t save me a spot in college I could become a killer, be a drug addict, an alcoholic, a drug dealer, I can go join a gang, go to jail because I carjacked someone,” said one.
“If everyone endeavors a college degree then this country would have a lot less homeless people and people suffering of drugs and other addictions,” was the assessment of another.
Exactly how many of these young writers actually were at risk of becoming carjackers, I’ll never know. Nor whether they were trying to yank at the guilty heartstrings of whomever they imagined would read their work. But it doesn’t really matter. The key is how uniformly they described their struggle against expectations of failure.
“We come from Latin and Hispanic communities that aren’t recognized in society for their success and intellectual students,” notes one budding scholar, “but for their violence and failures.”
Many wrote about friends in gangs. Young pregnancies. Siblings suffering the
consequences of bad choices. Many blamed a society that expected them to fail, and that blamed them for their skin color, their language or their immigration status.
“Us Mexicans want a better future for our family and us. Undocumented people come from Mexico because we want a better future. … Yeah, we may be poor, but we try the best we can in order to go further out as much as possible as we can.”
Some of these kids blamed “California leaders” others blamed colleges that “always pick the rich kid.”
“I hope to someday break the statistics that say only one of one hundred Latino seniors who graduate high school go on and succeed in college,” wrote one young lady.
Stop holding us back, was the common lament. Stop blaming us for being here. “Not letting a person go to college is like not letting a baby walk.”
One entrant, assuming like most that this essay was her hotline to the ruling class, summed up the situation like this: “I am your future, and you are mine.”
That we’re-in-this-together notion is what schools used to call good citizenship.
And, P.S., the weather is fine, and they do wish you were here.