It must be an unspoken rule of all parents to notoriously remind their children of the details of their birth, as if we were conscious and cognizant of the exact time, date and the minuscule details of our coming into existence. Luckily for me, my parents spared (most) of the gooey and gross details of my birth, but they always emphasized that my feet were the first to come out, causing a need for emergency surgery that both my mother and I were fortunate to survive.
Although it's a sappy story, they usually use it as a way of justifying the wanderlust that I have identified with since I was young. Since my feet were the first to enter the world, they believed it marked a desire to get out and to explore the great, wide somewhere. I always dreamed of getting out of my sleepy small town, and seeing places I could only dream of. I was named after a missionary close to my family, and I strove to one day be able to travel and give back to a world that had given so much to me already. I did everything that typical travel bug victim did: became accepted to a university in Paris, France, majored in International Relations, and interned in Europe the summer before my first year of college began. I lived in airports, slept in bus stations, and traveled in trains to new European countries. I wanted to get out of my town as quickly as possible, by any means necessary.
Like most things, life had a different story for me in mind. I didn't attend the university in Paris, but rather the University of California, Riverside. Instead of living fifteen hours away, I was now fifteen minutes away, surrounded with people I've known my entire life and places I was already familiar with. I began the year as an International Relations major, but quickly realized my passion was invested in public policy and educational advocacy. I wanted to go on international trips and see the world, but my financial situation enabled more adventures throughout California instead of abroad. I dreamed of oceans, but it was time for me to jump in puddles.
Living in Riverside a year later has made me realize the immense need of staying within the community that has supported me endlessly. People leave Riverside County and the Inland Empire at the first chance they have, but the problems don't go away for future inhabitants of the area. We have work that needs to be done, and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves to make meaningful change.
According to statistics from Next10.org, 1 in 9 of Riverside County residents of the labor force identify as unemployed, while 1 in 7 lives below the poverty line. Now is not the time to be shaming my hometown, but rather the perfect opportunity for learning more about the unique communities home to the region, the individual and collective struggles the communities face, and the intersectionality of issues between the region and other parts of California. Approximately 40% of the Latinos that are 25 or older (acknowledging that the term Latino is a term of colonization, and placing it solely for the lack of better term) have achieved less than a high school degree. 180,000 households in the same region where I lay my head to rest nightly make only $20,000 a year. What's more, earlier this year, Riverside's nearby city, San Bernardino, was listed as the 'most dangerous' city in California by Graham Donath, a law firm located in Southern California.
I've heard people refer to my city as 'ghetto' and 'rachet', and I reject any notion of the terms being applicable to my hometown. We are the same city whose Mission Inn Hotel used to attract and host celebrities such as Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, and Pat and Richard Nixon (where they were married). My university is not a 'second rate' school; it is a cornerstone of leadership and innovation of the citrus industry, which came to fruition solely because of community-based demands. It is the home of the U.S. Poet Laurate, Representative Mark Takano and 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students bursting with passion towards their future endeavors. When my community wants to get something done, we do it, and it's in excellence.
I'm not saying that I'll never get to see the places I've dreamed of, as I intend of traveling to see the world I've heard a lot about. Maybe I'll go to grad school or law school outside of the community, and maybe I'll be able to check places I've dreamed of on my bucket list. Yet, I know I have a community to come back to and serve. The Inland Empire is hurting, but we're also making art through our brokenness. Let every step I make with my all-too-eager feet be made with love, and with the intention of progressing my sweet home.