Though my Spanish wasn’t bad, the snapping of the scissors next to my ear mixed with the four ladies clucking in Spanish left me in a solitary mindset. The second closest whittled away on a teenager, working closer and closer to his scalp until with the last layer she used an electric shaver to expose whitewalls and a short cropped top that resembled a putting green. On the opposite side, an elderly gentleman leaned back as a young Hispanic female shaped his tumbleweed eyebrows. Nearby, a heavy set señora laid out what appeared to be well traveled bracelets, necklaces and jewelry on a shortened ledge with all the optimism of a flea mart Queen. Her spilling cleavage distracted my eye as she bent forward, and she seemed to sense it as she held the position longer than I would have expected, then flashed a smile.
Lefty’s barber shop had long since been abandoned by Lefty himself and replaced to serve the ever growing immigrant population. I spoke a few words in Spanish to my stylist who told me she’d been in the United States for twenty years but hadn’t really learned English as she had been at home with her children for the early years, and later the population didn’t require it.
I thought back to Yoni Rodriguez, a student who came to my Physical Therapy clinic as a volunteer. It was most interesting to see the art he had composed while in high school (attached sketch). It was derived out of street art and I could sense the pain of poverty as well as the hopes for a better life. Yoni said his interest in art came as a child while watching his older cousins practicing their graffiti with spray cans on plywood in the back yard, though he didn’t have an answer as to why he chose to avoid the local gang scene. It soon became clear that his ambition and drive would take him far, and I found myself encouraging him to continue with college and work towards a higher level. He is currently succeeding in his pre-med classes.
I thought back on my own childhood of working in the asparagus field, something I began at eleven years old and continued seasonally through my high school years. It wasn’t done for fun, but rather, as a means to enjoy a more fruitful life. Yoni explained that his parents had arrived in the country from Mexico searching for a better life, but he was born here. He laughed when he told me that he only recently realized that his social security had been collecting funds since shortly after his birth as a result of his uncles using it since he was an infant. Yoni was highly motivated to improve his life, and for some reason this struck a chord in me as my own son had dropped out of college several times and was living with his mother at twenty-five. Perhaps it’s my generation, or just me, but when I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and earn my own living.
I didn’t have much time for drugs, and couldn’t have imagined the idea of dropping out of school if someone was paying for it. Instead, I remember taking out student loans and trying to find my direction as my primary purpose was to obtain a degree where I could secure sustenance above the level of a restaurant dish busser and one free meal a day (one of my college jobs). Driven by the need, will, and desire to survive it seems, yields the motivation to create a better future. It’s no surprise that Yoni doesn’t have time for drugs and minimal leisure time as he works towards his medical degree.
While our society spends a lot of time worrying about marijuana legalization, and our right to get high, we are seeing more foreign students enter science, engineering, and the medical field where we have a shortage of workers. It’s interesting as well that those underprivileged in our own country are drawn to these fields as much or more than the more affluent.
One wonders why these students seem so driven, so smart, and why we are not attracting more of our own youth to excel academically in these fields. I look back at my own life and question whether or not working since I was eleven just taught me to expect to work, or whether the lack of funds taught me to work. I guess it doesn’t really matter. I value a life of productivity and am thankful to now be able to mentor others and give back to society. Perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are better examples of how reaching a point well past survival mode allows more giving and how the classic American Dream can generate overall good for society, but if each of us sees to it that we are giving more than we are taking from society the world might be a better place. This seems to hold true for those who will serve best by first securing their own place in society as well as for those from a more privileged class.
Kids—Feel free to lambaste me.
Art reproduced with permission of Yoni Rodriguez