By Abe Villarreal
Every now and then you take a moment just to sit down and think. There is no talking. Your phone is out of reach. All you have are your ears and the act of listening.
We don’t do enough of this. We tend to fill empty spaces while not realizing that spaces are never empty. Something is always happening. When we have those moments of watching and listening, we realize it.
It happened to me recently when I was participating in a forum on stereotyping Latinos. A guest presenter was speaking to students at Western New Mexico University. The students were mostly first-generation college undergrads of Hispanic ethnicity.
As the presenter shared his insights, the students' eyes began to open. They were listening and taking in every word. And when the question and answer period started, they were ready to unload.
Stories of struggles with families and relationships were shared. The mostly 18 and 19 year-olds were not afraid to speak up and voice their truth. Some had close families that were killed. Others talked of growing up in poverty, and the ridicule they experienced because of it. One very tall member of the basketball team spoke in broken English. He said that he hadn’t seen his mother in over a year. The thought of seeing her again was all the motivation he needed to succeed.
I sat, and I listened. I wondered why sometimes I felt that my life was a little too challenging. And in that wondering, I felt guilty. The nuclear family I experienced growing up was almost picture perfect. We were poor and lived in a singlewide trailer, but that didn’t seem all too bad even then.
Compared to what some of today’s college students have experienced, I had a great upbringing. At 18 years of age, I never had to suffer a parent’s death. As a high school student, I didn’t have to travel across international borders to attend a high school that my parents would never get to see.
And because of these unreal experiences I listened to from one courageous student at a time, a smile slowly grew on my face knowing that they were representing a brave generation of people. Young people that take risks to do what it takes to take care of their families.
Their decision to attend university, something that almost no one around them has ever done, took more courage than most things I can imagine. My decision to go to college was about me and my future.
Their future is not about them; it’s about the people they left behind. The people that they are not allowed to have close to them, to celebrate with them, or to be there in those special moments.
So, I continued to sit back and listen. I did this as long as I could because I knew that the more I heard, the more I would grow in my understanding of what is right and wrong in the world.
As I listened, I realized that despite what I read about in the news and hear on TV, the future is bright and full of people that will make good decisions that will unite their communities and build up families.
I’m looking forward to the time they are running the world. I know they will do an amazing job. I know because I listened to them.