Social activism is more than just signing petitions, campaigning for the right candidate, or demonstrating in public against a social injustice. I may not campaign for the right candidate or demonstrate against a social injustice by marching on the streets, but I am trying to better the world in my own way, the best I can. I believe that today’s youth needs role models. When I was growing up, I had plenty of role models through school, my friends, and their families. However, none of them were Mexican. At our grade school, the nuns always talked about what it would be like when we went to college–not IF we went to college, but rather, when we went to college. I really wanted to go to college because of that positive influence. Unfortunately, my mother was disappointed because I wanted to go to college. By the time I was in high school, she was divorced with six children and she had hoped I would work full-time to help her financially. I wanted to go to college so I wouldn’t have to work in a factory as she did. “Why do you want to go to college?” she asked me. “So I don’t have to work in a factory,” I said. She didn’t know what to say next. Finally, she said, “Mexicans don’t go to college!” “Yes, they do,” I said. “Well, show me one,” she said. I thought about all the Mexicans in the neighborhood that I knew or knew of, but not one was a college graduate, or even a college student. Had there been at least one Mexican college student in the neighborhood, I might have persuaded my mother to let me go to college. But I lived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood that has always been more of a port of entry for immigrants who eventually moved on; once they established themselves in this country, they moved out of the neighborhood to someplace better, anyplace else. So Mexicans did go to college, but by then they had moved out of our neighborhood.
Now, I let everyone know that I am a college graduate. I feel that I am a positive influence on struggling students of all backgrounds, but especially Hispanic students. A few have told me so. I have had adults of Hispanic and African-American descendency congratulate me for my academic achievements. They tell me, “Show them that we’re not all a bunch of dummies!” And this is how I plan to be socially active. This is my way of making the world a better place.