By: Natalia Cárdenas
It is a rainy afternoon; the rain starts to fall and before long it threatens to become a downpour. One may think this is normal, since summer is about to end, but yesterday was a day full of light and the sun was shining bright. This is Chicago, the city with the most unpredictable weather I’ve ever known. I’m sitt ing on the train, watching the raindrops fall against the windows, and I thank God for being here under cover and not outside gett ing drenched.
I’m on a train heading downtown in the city where I go to school, but today I will be late. The train has decided to stop its route and remain at the station because of the intense hail the storm brought with it. The train won’t keep going until the conductor says it’s OK. I am not upset, because I know the teacher will understand the reason for my tardiness, and some of my classmates will be in the same situation. It seems like I will be here a long time and I can either check my cell phone, read a book in my backpack, or focus on the thoughts that, instead of becoming less frequent as I grow older, multiply with each new experience and generate more questions than answers.
I choose the third option. The analysis starts with my destination: my school. How is it that I fi nd myself in the last semester of a community college, about to transfer to a four-year university, in a city that was so far from my life plans? Although Chicago has always been a part of me because I was born here 20 years ago, the idea of pursuing a university degree in this city did not seem plausible because I grew up in another country.
I am the daughter of Mexican parents who took me to Mexico when I was very young. I never paid much att ention to my link to the United States, but when I decided to come study here my world changed completely. New people, new streets, new food, new everything. I soon learned that I was not only Mexican but Mexican American and, above all, Latina. With that label, English as my second language, and in a foreign land, I began to adapt to an unknown way of life.
At school, of course, I met people of my same race but, unlike me, most of their memories were made in the nation of stars and stripes. Many of them, however, were treated as foreigners because they did not receive fi nancial aid to cover their educational expenses. Ironically I, who really did not feel American, had all that covered because I have a paper that says that I am American. To pay off their debts these students have to take whatever job they can find, at least part time, and this is how I became acquainted with the deeply ingrained work culture among young people. Something that a few years ago I considered an adult thing or reserved for those who had graduated and had a university degree, is now something normal for me. In fact, I also took the leap, and halfway through my fi rst semester I already worked at a restaurant.
Most people there were adults who worked to support their families, but I also met young people; many studied and others didn’t. Some needed to make money to pay for books or to go out Friday nights. Just as I did at the community college, I met illegal immigrants, American citizens with children, and people with other circumstances that made us see things differently despite being at the same stage in life; however, despite everything else, we shared a common dream, and it was clear why we were there: we yearned for something bett er. My time there was transitory, as I had planned, and it taught me not only about the working world but also about human relations and the wishes that push us to do what we do.
Nowadays, I work doing what I love, in perfect harmony with what I want to do in the near future. My thoughts keep gett ing deeper day by day. The people I work with are also young and, like me, want to reach higher and higher goals.
I now realize that the train is moving. Three more stops to go before I reach my final destination. I end with the following: if I wasn’t sure that God has great things in store for me, greater than anything I can imagine, if I didn’t have faith that every new experience is a step toward something better, any obstacle or drawback would make me give it all up, and although I sometimes falter, I never fall. The train doors are about to open, the rain stopped, and I’m reaching my destination.