Friday, April 24, 2015

What Poor People Drink, An Inspirational Creative Story of Rising from Poverty

Have you ever drunk pinto bean juice as a beverage?  Pinto bean juice is what my mother used to call the water that was left in the steam pot once the pinto beans were done cooking.  God I hated it.  But she couldn't afford to buy milk for my sister and me, and water had no taste.  She also believed the bean water had nutrients that would be good for me, and a Mexican mother's beliefs are hard to dispel.

Immigrating to the United States in 1983 was the best present my palate could ever receive.  By the time we arrived in San Jose, CA, (we traveled from El Paso, TX to Los Angeles, CA, then to the Bay Area) a month later, I had been introduced to orange juice.  The stewardess on the plane flight from Texas to California must have thought I was dying of thirst, asking for second and third helpings of the stuff.  However, I would not be refreshed again by delicious orange juice, much to my dismay, until several years after.

I grew up a child of Sunny Delight.  From second grade through elementary that's what I had to drink at home, other than water.  I drank milk at school.  Sometimes I'd beg friends for their carton.  I'd score a few extra on any given week.  But home, a single bedroom apartment on McLaughlin Avenue was Sunny Delight's kingdom.

Most immigrant families improve their standing over time.  My parents were able to save money after three years of work as night custodians at the now defunct Rolm Corporation, and procure our family better housing: a two-bedroom duplex on 1192 South 12th Street.   I spent ten years at this domicile.   So did Tang.  My mom for some reason was convinced Tang was now healthier than Sunny Delight.  She had more authority over her children with Tang.  “Two spoonfuls only!” she’d yell at me as I ran to the kitchen dehydrated from playing outside.  My best friend, Isaac, an African-American insisted Kool-Aid was “way better” than Tang.  I liked Kool-Aid.  My mom never got it for us though.

I watched a lot of Yo! MTV Raps during my high school years, 1990-1994.  It was the living room couch, my 7-11 Big Gulp, and I passing the time after school.  Just the three of us.  What was it, fifty-nine cents for a liter of any available fountain drink they had on store?  My goodness, I felt like Charlie from Willie Wonka getting off the public bus, running to the 7-11 at the corner of my block for some of their Fizzy Lifting Drinks.   

What saved me from becoming a diabetic and from my sugar dependence was physical activity.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I suffered from anxiety and depression.  I still do.  But back in the early nineties, without a diagnosis or medication, running cross-country and track and field kept my body even-keel.  It also allowed my mind to concentrate and focus.  I got off the sugary drinks, heeding my coach’s advice.  I started to see the link between my poverty and the refreshments we had available at home.  Do rich people drink Coke or Pepsi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? I asked myself.   No, they probably have butlers who serve them freshly squeezed fruit or vegetables and own several of those famous TV juicer machines, I thought.

When you’re poor, your choices are limited.  But you still have choices!  I chose to stop drinking poison.  I chose to read instead of watching so much television.  Though I pulled off a 3.3 G.P.A by the end of high school, I was not ready for a four-year college.  I chose to go to community college even though I had acceptance letters from several prestigious institutions.  Having a former illegal alien, Mexican, bi-lingual, and poor student on your campus…what Admissions Office wouldn’t want that?  Like Tom Hanks, community college saved me.  I was a horrible writer after high school, despite earning A’s in honors English courses three years in a row.  Undoubtedly, I would have flunked out at a university.

San Jose City’s writing lab was my salvation.  Tutors helped me get the basics of writing craft down.  So did being an avid reader.  Everyone has access to books!  While at SJCC, I read like a monk during the middle ages.  I read the classics.  I read philosophy.  I read about governments and ruling.  I read American literature from the 1800’s to the present.  And I wrote.  I fashioned my writing after Twain, Poe, and Steinbeck as writing exercises until I found something: my own voice.

And so although being poor is a financial condition of your place on the planet, it is not a condition of your heart or mind, unless you live in a country without freedoms.  America is such a great country because you can learn to read and write without reprisal.  Because you can make a living from reading and writing and replace poverty with endless wealth.

Who taught me to invest in real estate, stocks, and bonds?  I taught myself with only a library card.  I taught myself spending hours reading at the Barnes & Noble.  Now I’m worth over a million dollars at 38.  I can’t remember the last time I drank Sunny Delight or Tang.  That’s a great thing!

Thanks for reading!  

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