Archive for the ‘ poverty ’ Category

The Colorful Shades of Money.

As individuals immersed in work to fight poverty, we tend to speak in advocacy for the poor. Both authors of this blog have worked in the depths of poverty, with the homeless, unemployed and those who might rely on welfare checks to survive throughout each month. We have been exposed to poverty in one of the riches countries around the world, but have also gone abroad to work with the impoverished and homeless people in developing nations. Just as our blog title states, we see the “colors [indeed shades] of poverty.”

However, I have cause to wonder whether or not we truly see equality on the side of poverty. I obviously do not speak for my co-author, let me be plain in my disclaimer.

First, a history lesson:
I am a member of one of the largest immigrant groups to the US, the Chinese American community. We are the model minority. We are all the shades of yellow from every type of vocation, age, socioeconomic status, gender and upbringing. We have suffered discrimination throughout our experience ever since we first came during the building of the continental railroad. There were no advocates for us then and, as is typical of the Chinese people, we persevered throughout all the roadblocks put in front of us by the White Man. [This is not to say anything about White Americans as they are today, but to simplify detail a fact in history.]

There are newly arrived Chinese Americans, and there are families who have lived here for over 50 years. Regardless of how long an individual has lived in this country, one thing we can never deny is our roots, the traditions and customs that make us Chinese Americans. And yet, there are many rifts among us: young vs old, those born overseas vs those born in USA, those born overseas outside China vs those born in China, etc. The list goes on.

One of our guiding values is that of financial stability due to career success. There are those who have been here for a very long time who have become doctors and lawyers. These are our heroes, the pride of our community; the ones who made it, the ones we expect our children to look up to and to one day become. Some new immigrants do make it. They become the scientists and lawyers and doctors that gives the rest of us hope.

Yet, those are the few and far between. Many unforeseen circumstances erupt to hinder and divert our path in the journey of life, and not all are successful in the pursuit of this goal. As a result, a rift is created between he who gains the success and wealth desired and he who cannot or does not.

My first experiences of this were in college. Granted, most were predominantly White Americans. However, there was a change that was required of me. I was called the “trendsetter” and “prim and proper” and ultimately, the “spoiled rich girl” all simply because I wore nice designer clothes, acted in a way typical of the area in which I grew up, and drove a car that my father bought to force me to drive. Now, in the Silicon Valley where I grew up, those things would not be out of the ordinary…except that most kids love to drive. But in Northern California, things became different. Property taxes, salaries, and the typical standard of living were lower. The culture of the area was also very different; the community as a whole was very dedicated to family life and people enjoyed wilderness activities (kayaking, skiiing, snowboarding, sailing, hiking, etc.) more than the consumerist city life I was attuned to.

And as a result, a sort of majority mentality began to develop: the idea that I was rich, and that it was a bad thing. It was all so strange to me. Me, rich? I guess maybe the Silicon Valley of the Bay can be considered possibly Upper Middle Class in the most extremely affluent of areas. However, I never lived in them or was anything like them. I was always Middle Class. There were always people who struggled more than my family did, and there were always people who we struggled to become more like. I had never considered myself in that manner before.

However, I must say I have never once considered the idea that poor people are better than rich people. NOR have I ever considered that rich people are better than poor people! That sounds ridiculously absurd to me! And yet, there are many people, Chinese and otherwise, that have such ideas. Some believe that poor people are bad and even criminal. Others think the poor put themselves in that position. Some others think that poor people are better than rich people because they are happier. [Let me tell you, they have never met the impoverished with an entitlement complex at social services!] Still others believe that poor people are are a drain on the system.

Where is the equality in these socioeconomic divisions? Where have we gone? How can we be one people when we cannot even agree to look towards one another with a non-judgmental attitude?

I am lucky. I have grown up with a father who lived an impoverished life in a developing nation AND a mother who was the daughter of a wealthy businessman. I am the typical Chinese American, and I have experienced both sides. I am both a hoarder, penny pincher and DIY fanatic while also one who purchases high quality items whether it is clothes, food, furniture or medical services.

People are people. Whether poor or rich, labelling others based upon socioeconomic status is still a focus upon money. Let us not allow the “shades of money” to rule our lives or how we view others. It is important that we see each other as just PEOPLE. Together, we can be people.

Still Trying

I had the experience of living a semester in Uganda where the biggest thing I learned was the most unexpected: poverty, true poverty that exists all around, is further beyond anything I could ever know. That following semester in college, I participated in a “poverty retreat” with my Community Development class—a mere 36 hour simulation of  poverty. I really wish more people could underestimate their experiences more. Glorifying in our ministry or showing off our sacrifice is like fixing something with a broken tool. It is in homeless campouts, poverty retreats, and short term mission trips that we often make it more about ourselves than about others—contrary to what it should be. The most valuable thing we can get from these events is just knowing that we could never really know what it’s like.

But should we not try?

[Read Shannon Moriarty: “Why You Can’t ‘Experience’ Homelessness in One Night”. She writes: A one-night camping experience can never replicate the stress, fear, pain, loss of pride, and loss of hope that often coincides with being homeless.” Amen.]