Every Fourth of July I think of when my family and I immigrated to the United States from Peru in 1997 for a chance at the American Dream.
I was only 12 when we left a country where human rights violations were commonplace and receiving a quality education depended on status. My parents believed America, specifically Oklahoma City, was where we would rise through hard work and have a chance at a real future.
Independence Day holds special meaning for our family because when we came to this country, like this nation’s Founders, we were declaring our independence from everything we had known before it and were charting a new path. We were anxious in this new world but nonetheless determined, and we relied heavily on our faith for facing the unknown. We thank America for welcoming us and are proud to be Americans.
Eighteen years later and now a mother myself, I am awed by, and understand more deeply the sacrifices my parents made for me to receive a better education and live a life of possibility. Just like nation building must have been for the Founders, learning new customs and a new language was difficult and didn’t happen overnight. My parents struggled with how best to help me because they too were learning. When I graduated from S.E. High School, it was a victory for us all.
While not as stark as the inequities in Peruvian schools in 1997 that cruelly marked a child for success or a life of poverty from the beginning, there remain differences in educational opportunities for Oklahoma’s school children that greatly impact whether their future is bright or compromised. This weighs heavily on me as a Hispanic parent of two children, and it’s why I became a Stand for Children Parent Leader.
Some Oklahoma students go to public schools that give them an effective teacher in every class, a quality principal in every building that welcomes parent engagement, and a curriculum that will prepare them for life after high school. Others don’t. Some go to schools where they feel safe and teachers can easily manage a classroom; others attend schools where they don’t feel safe and classrooms brimming over with 45 or more students is common.
Stand for Children has empowered me to advocate for my children to ensure they have the same access to the American Dream as any child in Oklahoma. As a parent leader I’m learning the leadership skills I need to empower other parents to fight for their children’s future. Language, culture, and poverty can be barriers for parents to be effective advocates for their children. So I am grateful that Stand for Children has given me the information, tools, and voice to overcome these barriers and help others do the same.
All Oklahomans, all Americans, have a stake in ensuring all children – not just their own – have a quality education. While I was in training, I learned that Civil Rights pioneer Marian Wright Edelman, the mother of our organization’s founder, once said our own children’s future is shaped by our fairness to other people’s children. It’s true, and it’s why I Stand for Children and urge all who believe in the American Dream to Stand with me, too.