The way up

The way up

Kids shouldn't be forced to leave their homes in hopes of a better future

By Randy Jurado Ertll 11/08/2012

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The inner city was my neighborhood. In the 1980s, when I was attending junior high school in South-Central Los Angeles, gang violence was common and respect for teachers was absent. Being a victim of senseless street conflict was something I worked to avoid.
 
I immersed myself in books, in reading and writing. My first triumph was in eighth-grade, when I won $100 in a school essay contest. My subject was George Washington Carver. My mother was quite proud of my writing achievement.
And it was an achievement. I was born in Los Angeles. When I was 8 months old, US immigration agents arrested my mother and deported her back to El Salvador. She had no choice but to take me with her. We didn't return until I was 5. At school, I was considered an immigrant, and it wasn't until the fourth grade that I learned to read and write in English.
 
In junior high school, the so-called smart students were invited to attend a workshop about a national program called A Better Chance, or ABC. It provided scholarships to excellent schools far from the inner city. This was during a time in my life when I felt pressured to join a gang. I saw ABC as my big opportunity to escape, and I applied to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, as far away as I could go.
 
ABC sent me a typed letter saying I hadn’t been selected. I wrote back, in longhand, asking why. It had created and then crushed my hope, I wrote. Save me, I pleaded. ABC officials phoned me. The conversation is still vivid in my memory. They said I had been accepted into the program after all and could attend an academy in Rochester, Minn.
The airplane ticket arrived, and I was gone. I left my mother and two sisters behind, however, which was heartbreaking. As the family's only boy, I saw myself as its protector, though the reality was I couldn't even protect myself.
 
Except for one Mexican-American boy from East Los Angeles, my housemates in Minnesota were nearly all African American. We went through difficult times learning to accept one another. In South-Central L.A., blacks and Latinos competed for scarce economic and political resources, but at John Marshall High School in Rochester, we learned to care for and respect each other. I grew close to my house directors, who were white. Ethnicity didn't matter.
 
As a senior in 1991, I read a pamphlet that said Occidental College in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles placed an emphasis on learning about multicultural issues. I applied and was accepted. Majoring in politics with a minor in Spanish, I graduated from Occidental with distinction in 1995.
 
Now I think back to that critical stage in my life, when the ABC program removed me from my environment and prepared me to attend college, to succeed. It assured me I had the capacity to do it. No one could make me feel inferior. In a nation built by immigrants, I learned to find pride in my immigrant family.
 
A Better Chance turned my dreams into reality. I became a role model in my family and my community. I worked in the environmental movement, in immigrant rights advocacy and in Washington, DC, as a communications director and legislative assistant to Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte). Each step helped shape who I am today.
 
Now I live in Pasadena, some areas of which are not that different from South-Central Los Angeles. Many of the students I see today remind me of myself when I was going through similar struggles. The job of public school districts is to offer youth a better chance, a quality education and hope, without their having to travel halfway across the country. 

Randy Jurado Ertll, author of “Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience,” is executive director of the nonprofit El Centro de Accion Social, Inc. in Pasadena.

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Comments

This sounds so uplifting, with only a mild distaste of tragedy on the edges. One thing that becomes evident though, you weren't "forced" to surrender anything. Instead, you chose to take a road less traveled. It seems that nobody could imprison you ... not even yourself.

Or, instead of the uncertainty and angst that an uncommon environment invariably produces, would you rather have had all the answers and recognition just pretentiously handed over to you in South-Central? Where's the accomplishments in that?

Instead, you have similarly experienced what can fairly be described as a rich kid's boarding school travail. So now? You're back in a 'Dena hood. No more (real) adventures for you?

DanD

posted by DanD on 11/08/12 @ 01:25 p.m.

Randy your an inspiration to others. Keep fighting your cause. Noone will stop you except you. You have come so far and should share that strength with people that want a better future as you did and do.

RayR

posted by rayray20 on 11/13/12 @ 08:09 p.m.
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