My father walks in the front door as slowly and quietly as possible. It is 6:30 in the morning, and he is heading to bed after a twelve-hour graveyard shift at the factory. He spent the last twelve hours operating machines for plastic and electric automobile parts. The endless hours of manual labor leave his joints inflamed and his muscles sore—arthritis and an aging body don’t stand up well against large machines and heavy parts. I beg him to find work elsewhere, but this is the only way he can provide for me and my brothers. Opportunity is scarce for those whose skill set is limited to operating a drill press.
On one side of a fence, an eleven-year-old is sprinting away from a border patrol agent. On the other side, a civil war is consuming the country she was forced to leave behind. He chases her across the barren desert. She is guided by nothing more than the dim glow of the moon. He is closing in and she knows not what to do, but her instinct tells her to hide. She waits and only hopes not to get thrown across to the other side of the fence. Morning comes and she is reunited with her family.
Welcome to America, Mom!
She now works a typical desk job: nine to five, decent benefits, and a whopping $7.25 an hour. But minimum wage paychecks get stretched far too thin, turning basic necessities into a list of priorities. “Gas bill or groceries?” Who is to say? But one has no meaning without the other—it’s hard to cook without a stove but why have a stove if you can’t cook? There were nights when I had to sleep away the pain in my aching stomach because there was simply not enough food to feed a family of seven. These circumstances were tough, but all I had ever known until the day an unassuming envelope addressed to “Jordan A. Reyes” changed everything. I suddenly had a warm bed, three meals a day, and a newfound hope for a better life.
Welcome to Swarthmore, Jordan!
Since enrolling I have been fortunate enough to encounter a world of opportunity that I would have otherwise been unexposed to. Attending Swarthmore has enabled me to shadow surgeons, meet and work alongside government officials, and give back to a neighboring impoverished community that reminds me of my own all too well. Swarthmore had become my home and sanctuary, but on Monday I was suddenly stripped of my own sense of security. Another student had the audacity to say that I, and my fellow low-income students, should offer the wealthier students on campus a “warm thank you” since they are “being forced to pay for my opportunity.”
News flash: I don’t owe you a damn thing. I, and other students like me, have had to overcome obstacles that you could never imagine. We have helped our parents raise our brothers and sisters. We have had to take on multiple jobs to support our families and ourselves. We have trekked miles to get to class, because the local high schools weren’t places of learning, but pipelines to prison. We have had to work twice as hard our whole lives just to receive half of the opportunities bestowed upon some of our wealthier classmates. We have never had any strings to pull or someone’s shoulders to stand on. We have fought our way through the chaotic spectacle that is college admissions, and we have earned every dollar in our financial aid packages.
I pridefully accept my full ride because I know I worked hard for it; I’m not anyone’s charity case. I am unapologetic for occupying spaces in which I am clearly not welcome. I refuse to thank those who have never done anything for me or for my family. I will never “get over it,” because I am not simply “whining,” I am taking a stand for myself and for my peers who have been affected by the erroneous words and actions of people like Erin Jenson ’17.
When she spews her venomous and divisive words, she is simply “speaking her mind” and “exercising her first amendment right.” When low-income students of color mobilize against the hate, we are pegged as bullies.
I cannot bring myself to understand why, even at a place like Swarthmore, white discomfort is prioritized above progress and the needs of disenfranchised groups of students.
After all my family and I have been through, do you honestly think I should be thanking you?