I guess I’m posting this to put into writing for you to know that I’m aware of my privilege, and for me to find some sort of comfort in confessing my feelings through writing. There are different kinds of privilege, but the one I have and want to talk about is socioeconomic privilege.
I was born to two loving parents, who built the wonderful lives that we have from the ground up. My mom raised my brother and I, and set an example for how a household should be run. My dad graduated from college not knowing what to do, but made it his goal to educate himself and support us financially. They struggled, but they conquered. I can say this now, but I went through none of that struggle. All I saw was my family together, always in a nice home to live in, receiving great education and healthcare. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had everything that I needed.
I grew up and have lived in Peru for most of my life, where I attended a private bilingual school. There, I met quite a diversity of people in terms of nationalities, but not so diverse in socioeconomic status. I did pretty good at school, was involved in music and community service – where I got a glimpse of the lives of people who lived in different socioeconomic circumstances. But I feel that they were just that – glimpses of what others’ lives were like. I wasn’t truly a part of their community; it wasn’t my reality. I knew I was priviledged, but I just believed I deserved it all along.
I took a gap year before college, with college the only thing on my mind at that point. I didn’t have to worry about finances, and my parents are (still) very much opposed to the idea of me working to earn a living before I graduate for college. I had the time, the resources and the ability to do what I think was best for my personal growth, a luxury that only few have. I’m still in college, so these conditions still apply to my life.
Then I came to college and what I came to discover flooded me with guilt. I arrived at my prestigious but public university, and though the ethnic diversity (or lack thereof) didn’t faze me, their diverse socioeconomic backgrounds did. I met people who were paying their way through college with work-study, working tiring part-time jobs to support their living costs, or simply having money being a constant anxiety in their lives. There were also people like me, who didn’t have to worry about financing their way through college. If they did, they sure didn’t talk about it. A lot of the talk around money was how little they had and how expensive life was here. It wasn’t like I have never been around people like this; it was the fact that we were all in the same environment, yet the person sitting next to me in class or even my floormate was struggling to make ends meet while I had little to worry about.
I internalized this as a sign that I didn’t deserve this privilege. All people would talk about was how hard they had worked to be where they were, how many hours they work to pay for food, how hard they work to build their lives from the ground up. There’s a sense of pride that comes with being the founder of your own success, and I admire that. And as much as I wish I could relate, I can’t. I didn’t come from an impoverished background nor deal with struggles that have left me to fend for myself. I owe my current and future successes to my parents, the environment and the opportunities that I was raised in.
I struggled coming to terms with the fact that I was basically the rich kid at a boarding school. Don’t get me wrong – my family’s not gloating with money, nor do we “appear” to be rich. But few (if any) international students get any financial aid or scholarship at an American public university, so you can estimate how much I was paying. None of my peers ever bothered me about it, no one ever suggested that I did not deserve my spot at college, but there is a certain stereotype that comes with being an international student that bugged me. I knew I wasn’t “one of them,”, but… was I not?
I didn’t do great my first two years in college. I guess on the surface I seemed to be doing pretty well. I had pretty much decided that I was going to do a double major in Cognitive Science and Psychology, with a minor in Chinese, after my first semester. This meant that I had to plan my classes carefully – and I did. And although I am sure I have developed my academic interests in these two years, I also struggled in a lot of my classes. I had to drop, P/NP (pass/no pass) and simply give up on classes that I couldn’t keep up with. I had to face the reality that college was not like high school, and effort did not always produce the desired result. I was heavily involved in a community service organization as well, and I discovered my newfound passion for social good here. But my performance in academics continued to bother me, and I let it bring me down.
I know that this form of self-deprecation is not only unreasonable, but it’s also futile. I did not choose the conditions in which I was born in, and the fact that I was born into such great conditions is something that I should feel grateful for, not guilty. If someone else were feeling like this, I would tell them the exact same thing, so why have I been trying to make myself think otherwise? Secondly, this form of mindset is counteproductive. What do I get from despising myself for something that I have no control over? Nothing, other than time taken away, time that I could otherwise be using to improve upon my life, and potentially the lives of others as well.
I once asked my dad, the breadwinner of the house, about us being “rich,” and he actually laughed at that. He told me that it wasn’t that we were rich, it was just that he just happens to invest most of what he earns into my brother and I. This includes education and healthcare, but also everyday things that I need – furniture, groceries, and any small things that I want. This act of love has a lot to do with the impoverished environment that he grew up in, and the way he has internalized is best for his children to grow up. So yes, I am rich. I am rich of loving parents, of a life that is full of possibilities, of first-world problems that I am thankful to have. I am lucky, so lucky, and can only hope that this luck is not wasted on me.