Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cheated Out of Childhood: The Excerpts of My Life

Getting to know about me is easy when looking through the class work I do. I get many outlets to share a bit about my experiences with the teachers and colleagues I have.

This first piece is an essay I wrote for my AP English Writing and Composition class during my Junior year of high school. It’s one of my most memorable and cherished assignments. We were assigned it after reading a sample “definition essay” by a writer with a disability who defined herself as “crippled.”  She didn’t use the term to put herself down, but rather as a realistic approach for self-empowerment. This is what I meant to do with the word “deprived.”

“Definition Essay” from AP English 3, September 27th, 2009:

            I call myself deprived. I do not care how harsh the word may seem, or about people’s reactions. It entitles them to the truth. Some claim that I’m exaggerating or pretending by using this term, but unfortunately, I’m not.
            I have always been an under-represented and underprivileged person, struggling to obtain the very things I require for survival. I live without the luxuries of a car, the internet, air conditioning, cable, a microwave, etc. Besides these, basic necessities are had to come by. These sorts of things are taken for granted by most others. I have to do without them. I differ from the norm because they possess many items that I simply cannot afford. There are so many opportunities that I have missed out on and so many things that I have never been exposed to that regular people have. For instance, I’ve never been to a beach, aquarium, or zoo in my entire life. This forces you to lose interest in such places because you start to feel as if you’ll never receive the chance to go anywhere, ever. Strangely, it sometimes affects me in a positive way because it makes me more independent. But at what price?
            Society refers to people like me as “lower middle class.” But that is just a euphemism for the “working poor.” Or, the “working poor” can just be a fancier phrase for “those who are immensely poverty stricken.” What about a household where there isn’t any income at all? Where everything is supplied for by the government and therefore limited? That’s what I come from. Maybe I am blessed to not be in the same situation as a homeless man or a starving child in Africa. Thank God for that. But does that really make me any luckier? Not necessarily, because you cannot compare the pain that hardships may inflict upon a person. I may not be in their places exactly, but I am one step away, on the verge of falling into a similar situation. I live with the constant fear of whether or not I’ll be going home to a cooked meal or crumbs from leftovers. Whether or not I’ll be going to a grocery store for food, or a local food bank. If one bill is too high or if the rent goes up, I might just be on the street. What if the landlord decides to sell the house? Then I’ll be homeless for sure. Hopefully, none of that will happen. But I always have to be prepared for it if it does.
            By stating that I am deprived, I do not wish to be pitied, just considered. I want “normal” people to at least acknowledge how far I’ve come and to be aware of how hard I’ve had to fight for the many things I do have. I can’t even feel comfortable enough to ask someone for something without feeling the guilt, shame, or embarrassment of being deprived. I wouldn’t want one to think I was begging or insisting. Perhaps I’ve been blessed, in a weird way. I make up for the lack of money for living expenses by dedicating myself to the intelligence, talents, and skills I have. Maybe being deprived now is a lesson I must learn so that it will aid me in future experiences. But none the less, that doesn’t change what I’ve been through or what I’m currently facing today. I’m still under-represented and underprivileged teenager who’s not finished fighting. Don’t take me for granted. 

Before I graduated from high school in 2011, I applied to several colleges with hopes of getting into my dream school, UCLA.

Personal Statement for UCLA, 2010:

            I was derived from an emotionally abusive background, where my mother was over-protective, paranoid, aggressive, unsupportive, and verbally abusive. I lived with her along with my physically/verbally abusive uncle and my ill, vulgar grandmother. They raised me in a three bedroom house that was paid for by government housing and they each had either welfare or SSI. I was mistreated often, I didn’t have much freedom or many privileges, and I didn’t have enough money to afford necessities. (i.e. food, toiletries , the internet, school supplies, etc.) My only source of transportation was a bike or the option of walking. Because of this environment, it was hard for me to focus on school work, and I was often depressed. At the age of 15, I grew very tired of my life, so I contacted social services. After 3 months of investigating my living conditions, they observed that it was unsuitable and removed me from the home. I’ve been in foster care since.
            Initially, I had no problem with the placement. I enjoyed my new found freedom that allowed me to spend time with my close relatives and friends, the encouragement and support I was given to attend college and participate in extracurricular activities, the home cooked meals served for dinner every evening, having access to the internet from home, receiving a bus pass, and the money they provided me with that enabled me to finally afford necessities. I had never had any of these things, and it was refreshing to acquire them for the first time. However, I was overwhelmed with appointments and meetings that I constantly had to attend with social workers, counselors, and therapists. I had to juggle all of these along with my homework, after school activities, chores, and social life. Though my life is better now, I always have this busy schedule. It makes me tired and stressed often, and I may not always be able to perform at my best, but I make an effort none the less and I am still able to manage because I recognize that this is the most convenient situation that I can currently be in.
            In the future, I look forward to enrolling into college and hopefully pursuing a career in the fields of writing, music, or fashion. Music, for me, has always served as a pleasant distraction from the hectic world I live in. Writing has always been the way that I express and release my deepest emotions by turning them into poems, songs, or stories. And I am a firm believer in the phrase “when you look good, you feel good”, which is why I’m so adamant about fashion. I dream of becoming a singer with my own fashion line and an author who has published five books, including a novel, a book of short stories, my autobiography, and a collection of poetry. I plan to emancipate from the foster care system and live by myself or with a close friend. The reason for this is the strict structure and routine of my foster home, which is secure, but sometimes uncomfortable for me. I feel that I will be happier as soon as I’m on my own and independent. The hardships I have faced as a child and throughout my life have caused me to be a very strong, dedicated individual. Though they were difficult to overcome and still are, I am thankful for them in a way, because without them I would not be as unique or powerful as I am today. I am glad that I have survived through them and that I now can call myself a fighter who has witnessed a tremendous amount of conflicts in my life and has still been able to benefit from them, which is a statement that few are qualified to make.

Now that I’m officially at UCLA, the struggles aren’t necessarily over, but life is a trillion times better. However, I never lose sight of what I’ve come from and still take time to reflect exactly where that is:

Journal Write for Introduction to Sociology Course, October 29th, 2013:

Journal #5: The Poverty Line and Class Associations; How they affect our lives.

            After reading about Karl Marx last week, I was rather surprised at learning about his personal life with his wife and children and how they were impoverished.[1] I guess it makes a lot of sense, after looking at his work with Socialism and his distinctions of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, that he would come from a lower working class background, hoping to see political change and economic equality. Furthermore, after reading David Newman’s Sociology Chapter 10, I thought a lot about my own socioeconomic background and current class standing.[2]
            According to Newman, “In 2011, the official poverty line for a family of four –two parents and two children – was an annual income of $22, 113.” (160) Then, looking from this to Paul Fussel’s nine levels of American society, Destitute encompasses the working and non-working poor, or in other words, those potentially receiving public assistance.[3] It was refreshing to hear the professor’s class background today in class, and after reading these works, I had a better understanding of my own. I grew up in a house with my mother, grandmother, and uncle. We rented the house and received assistance from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or otherwise known as section 8. My uncle and mother did not have formal jobs, but my mother received welfare and food stamps for having me as well as care providing funds for taking care of my grandmother while my grandma received Social Security and my uncle received Disability. At this time, each of them were receiving around $800 a month (this includes the food stamps and other non-cash benefits), which put us around $28,800 a year, just six thousand above the poverty line. But as I reached my early teens and my grandmother passed away, we no longer received her Social Security check and my mother’s care providing funds cut off, which put us at around $16,800 a year, way below the poverty line. So it’s quite clear that we were pretty much settled at Destitute, and my families mental health statuses and eccentric behaviors didn’t help put us any higher on the social ladder. As far as I was concerned, we were pretty poor. We often went to thrift stores to buy clothing, took advantages of sales, bargains, and the clearance section at most local retailers and made trips to food banks, churches, and homeless shelters for extra food. To the outside world, strangers, or friends that may have entered my house on occasion, we probably seemed well to do with our furnishings, cleanliness and abundance of records, cds, computers and bicycles, but most of those were hand-me-downs from old friends, relatives, neighbors, or collected from yard sales. We were barely making it by each month.
            At the age of 15, I was then put into foster care, which again, is yet another lower class setting. However, I felt like I had hit the jackpot! Receiving a clothing allowance of $50 a month along with $20 for miscellaneous purchases was well over what I was used to, though it was quite a step down for a couple of my foster siblings who came from wealthier homes and families. After realizing these class positions I was derived from, I was then intrigued to read this, “Only 3% of students in elite U.S. universities come from the poorest quarter of the population, and only 10% come from the poorest half.” (Newman, 163) As UCLA is currently ranked one of the best colleges in the world, I think I can declare myself as one of those students who falls within the three percentile. Though it saddens me that social mobility is infrequent because of the inequalities in our socioeconomic system and that only a measly 3% of the poorest students get to go to elite universities, I’m also extremely relieved and proud to know that I am one of the few who has managed to move a little higher up within the class levels compared to where I have originally come from.

[1] References: Fred C. Pampel, Sociological Lives and Ideas: An Introduction to the Classical Theorists.  Worth Publishers, 2006.  Ch. 1, “The Sources of Human Misery: Karl Marx and the Centrality of Social Class”
 [2] David M. Newman, Sociology, Chapter 10, “The Architecture of Stratification: Social Class and Inequality.”
  [3] Paul Fussell, Class, ch. 2, "An Anatomy of the Classes" Touchstone, 1992.   

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