By Corinne Wnek
Before I was ten years old, I learned a lot of things about life from my parents. At seven or eight, I could remember the sit-downs with mom and dad that I thought would be about one thing but ended up being about something else. No matter what the conversation was about, there was always a natural segue into a discussion about my parent’s general expectations for us as a family.
I remember my father telling me as a little girl that every generation must try to do better than the one before it. He explained that he and my mother were first generation Americans since their parents emigrated from Europe. My grandparents, he told me, had all to do just to find work in their new country, raise children and learn English. And they did so without any help.
Because they were born here, my parents had the advantage of knowing firsthand all the opportunities that this country offered to anyone who was willing to work hard. And work hard they did. My parents really believed it was their responsibility to provide a variety of opportunities for their daughters, that growing up, they themselves did not have.
I often heard that, when I became a parent, I would be expected to do for my children everything I could do to make their lives even better than the good life my parents provided for me. To my parents, education was the key ingredient. No matter what, my sister and I would graduate from college and that was the end of that. Boyfriends, let alone husbands, were out of the equation until after graduation.
My parents practiced what they preached because my mother, at 86, is still making life better and easier in so many ways for her children and grandchildren. I took the words of my parents seriously. I understood what they meant about providing opportunities every time I had to write out a painful tuition check for my daughter’s pricey college education. Ouch. That hurt. But as my mother would say, “That was a happy pain you felt.”
Cut to my counseling office in the high school where I work. My last appointment for this afternoon is a requested college planning conference for the family of a student who is still waiting to acquire residency status in the United States. In came the mother, a disabled father and two older brothers who I thought might be about twenty-three or twenty-four old.
After I finished explaining how our American college system works and that, unfortunately, their child would not be eligible for any financial aid until she receives her green card, the brothers put their hands around Lucia’s shoulders proudly and said: “We no have opportunity to go college in Peru, but come here and work hard to have better life at least. Lucia is smart girl on honor roll and she want to learn. So she will go to college and we each pay half for her so she have better life later on.”
De ja vu.
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