I never really paid much attention to the fundamental differences between political ideologies of various factions until I got to college. Like many of my peers, I was a self-centered teen, and didn’t think decisions made in Washington D.C affected my little world much. Either way was fine; my parents would pay part of my college tuition and I visited the pediatrician when I fell sick. I worked hard at each of the part-time jobs held over a span of years and amassed a savings that helped fund the purchase of my first car, trips abroad and any extras I needed. The government didn’t infiltrate my world, I thought. Politics back then, was boring banter between boring adults.
After college, I traveled a lot and saw the world, and how this microcosm, my sheltered, conventional life in suburbia, America, was untenable in other regions; the “American Dream” was simply a fairytale that resided alongside mermaids and headless horsemen and Mickey Mouse. It didn’t exist. What most struck me as I befriended hardworking locals and rented rooms in their humble abodes---where such arrangements indeed helped then put food on the table----was the overt perpetuation of this caste system. The notion of studying and working hard to “climb out of the ghetto,” to ascend in one’s status and fortune was practically nonexistent. Children born into poor families were destined to a future bereft of opportunities, a future defined by restrictions and economic impotence---a bleak future indeed.
In 2001, my husband and I moved to Costa Rica, then Panama, where we raised our children for eight years. In Panama, petty theft was endemic as the have-nots, oftentimes due to the desperation induced by deplorable living conditions, were pushed into a life of crime. Yes, many were addicts looking to support a drug habit and some were plain lazy, others unemployable. But a great many simply had hungry kids and a will to survive. I don’t condone stealing from others; in fact, we’ve been victims of home invasions and car theft several times, one time happening right here in Broward County a few weeks ago, and it’s a terrifying experience, not to mention the rage brought forth from having years of hard work and sentimentality pilfered from your own private refuge. However, I’ve come to realize that without social reform, without those in charge instating policies to help us get a leg up if and when our world (unexpectedly) comes crashing down, the vicious cycle will never end.
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I didn’t completely understand just how critical it was until November 2008, when we suddenly found ourselves in a downward spiral and had to migrate back to South Florida, marching straight into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And under these precarious conditions, like so many others at the time, we experienced the same feelings of hopelessness we’d witnessed on the streets of Panama. Yes, we had college educations, but it didn’t matter much. We were forced, like any other new immigrant, to innovate, learn new skills and begin anew with no credit and nothing in the pipeline. With nothing.
Herein lies the experience that shaped my current belief system; a belief system that matured from pure theoretics as a privileged college grad to experiential as a mother petrified for the future of her family. We felt firsthand why those reforms are key in helping people get back on their feet again.
You see, experience is everything. And we went from being at the top of the food chain, to becoming a nobody on new soil. And with five little children to support, if it weren’t for government assistance, we wouldn’t have been able to turn our lives around. It would've been unaffordable to take them to the doctor, or the emergency room when my son broke his elbow and required immediate surgery. We wouldn't have the clean, safe parks down the street or impeccable beaches outfitted with lifeguards. My husband wouldn't have been able to go back to school to learn a new gig. If it weren’t for a society that values the collective good, that strives to move forward together, where everyone gives their part and the spoils are not just reserved for the rich and powerful, like we lived in Latin America, our kids will grow up untethered to this land and this people. They’ll be conditioned to just “look out for number one.”
And if God forbid, in their lifetimes, a Great Recession hits to the likes of the one that made our world crumble to the ground, where will they turn for a helping hand and a second chance? By that time, they may have kids of their own and we won’t be around anymore (to bail them out if we have the means.)
Think about it.