I don't come from money. I grew up in a working class family in a proudly blue collar neighborhood. It was during the devastation years when the big factories like Bethlehem Steel closed down and threw Buffalo, NY into the brink of economic oblivion. I grew up with government cheese (those bright orange bricks were mighty tasty!) and gas lines in nearby Canada that went for miles. Like any other kid, I thought my life was perfectly normal and relatively happy. If you don't count high school. Then, as the first kid to go to college in my family, I arrived at a swank Northeast liberal arts college and gawked at the students who arrived in limos, at moms decked out in Chanel suits speaking Portugese with a Brazilian lilt. There was a lot of gawking that first month for me. Eventually I became immune to stories of fox hunting with the Rockefellers and when my mom asked me tentatively over the phone, how I felt coming from a lower class, I sincerely answered that I was proud of where I came from.
But I had advantages that many do not. I know that my family, as working class WASPs, sheltered my brown immmigrant ass from a lot of torture. As many of you know, I was adopted as a baby, so while I'm ethnically Filipino, coctail hour and -albeit government- cheese plates in my life was absolutely de rigeur. Because my own complicated identity crosses a lot of borders, I know in the marrow of my bones that if it weren't for some serious life changing luck outside of my control, my life would be very very different. My mom, my sister, and I moved into my grandparents' house when I was six. My mom chose this over public housing when her husband left her high and dry with two kids. If I did not have my grandparents, who were able to buy and pay off their house without predatory lending, if I did not have my mom who was able to get a job as a church secretary during a time of double digit unemployment with the basic but necessary skills she learned at the local high school, if I did not have the cheap local track team to keep me busy and sprinting my way through childhood, the backyard to safely play football, the after school programs at the local church, the free lunches at school, the well stocked shelves of the local library, then my life would be markedly different. And make no mistake, a working class suburb hugging North Buffalo is not the same as Brooklyn.
My grandparents passed away in 1999 and 2000, and I think of them every day. I miss them terribly during the holiday season. And it is because of them that I will never forget where I come from. There was a lot of giving thanks in my childhood, and this time of year was when you remembered others. So thank you, Nema and Grandpa, for making my life so fortunate. Hopefully somebody up there can explain the word "blog", because we were stuck on translating "answering machine" and never made it to "internet"...
That's an important word, Fortunate- Receiving good from uncertain or unexpected sources. While hard work and an honest education may be a best selling ticket to prosperity, there's a lot of division among the uncertain and unexpected sources. Non profits and charities help bridge this division. This is our city, our country, our world. And even if I have piggybankblues, I am fortunate enough to even have a piggybank. Whether it's a religious/cultural holiday, or simply the retrospection of filling up the new year's dance card, 'tis the season to remember that ten dollars a month to your favorite charity is $120 worth of annual giving. Just remember- charge it to a no-fee rewards credit card, and pay it off in full each month :)
Here are a few of my favorite charities that allow monthly giving in smaller amounts, please feel free to share your own.
New York Cares- search engine to volunteer in NYC
Charity Navigator- evaluates the financial health of charities nationwide
- photo by |Shrued via flickr