“You’re blessed, you know. You can do anything. Not everyone has that opportunity. You can do whatever you want.”
Growing up, I heard that kind of phrase a lot. Usually, it came from my parent’s friends, adults who’d had the same opportunities when they were young. The difference between us was that I was only 18, and I still had so much time and so few responsibilities. So when I heard that, I would answer “I know!” and we would talk about the places I was hoping to go, the things I was hoping to accomplish.
But sitting in my host family’s small kitchen, listening to my host brother (old enough to be my host dad) saying those same words, they began to feel very different. Luis is in his mid-30s, married with 2 children, and unemployed. He’s kind, very hard working, and curious about the United States. And his family is living a life free of financial security. They probably always will be.
When we say that “some people” don’t have the same opportunities, we speak absently of them. But now I’m living with someone who comes from generations of “some people”. He’s one of them. His children, Kevin and Daniela, who I often play with, are “some people”. Of the 30 or so family members that live on my street, all of them are “some people” who will never be able to take a trip like the one I’m taking at the age of 18. \
I begin to feel like a criminal. I feel like I’m at fault for having more, and for him having less. It feels like I’m finally sitting face to face with the victim of my crime, and he’s treating me like family.
I know that I can’t think like that all the time. If I only focus on the inequality here, the ways that I am luckier, I’ll drive myself crazy and be useless to everyone. And the simple solutions (there’s a voice in my head that tells me to give all my money away) won’t help anyone in the long run. If there is a solution to poverty and vast global inequality, it will be complicated, and the people who develop it won’t be 18 and living abroad for the first time. But they might have taken a bridge year. That’s why I’m here—so that I can be educated in something they don’t teach in college, and one day, maybe help contribute to fighting poverty both within the USA and in other countries.
So I look at Luis, and nod. His words, well-intentioned, make me want to hide my face in shame. But that won’t get us anywhere. I need to acknowledge that he’s right. I need to accept that I have opportunities that no one around me has, and understand that I can’t really do anything about it. Maybe one day the world will find a solution to poverty, and maybe we’ll only ever be able to place bandages on a wound that won’t close. But it’s a fight we need to have, and I hope that I can one day be a part of it.