When Your Childhood Differs

RODRIGUEZPrisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez

Contributing Writer

I was recently talking to a friend, he is an immigrant and from Mexico and he said something that I resounded with my being so intensely that I went home and had some wine and let that ruminate a bit before I came to this conclusion: immigrant working poor Latinx children do not get to have traditional childhoods.

I have always known this, but somehow never sat with it long enough get indignant about it.  I have always known that my childhood was full of a lot more stresses than the “recommended amount” by child psychologists in the “modern world.”  If you read the child psychology books, they recommend stuff like: “quiet time” and if you come from loud neighborhoods and homes full of people, “quiet time” is not a luxury you get access to nor can really ever demand.  I have always known that had a great childhood though, with all the efforts and triumphs of parents who wanted me to have everything I ever wanted, or at least everything I needed.  I have always known that somehow that made me have a disadvantage in social settings, because I was raised to survive while other more privileged children were raised to enjoy their lives.

While talking to this friend, he said: I do not really go out much, because I come from a poor family so I have been working my entire life to get ahead.  And I stayed stunned, for a hot minute.  Because in our cultura, THIS is a real sentiment; I have heard that so often that I have normalized it.  

That same friend and I spoke about dating and how hard it can be because at our age privileged white kids are still being told they are children [insert Ryan Lochte] while some of us have never been allowed to be children.  Whatever that even means!!!!  I grew up in a barrio that is known for its maras, so since I was a kid I knew how to read people and I knew how to read my surroundings.  I was taught to be alert.  I was taught to be vigilant.  I grew up with immigrant parents, who I had to translate stuff for them from police, doctors, and lawyers.  I was socialized to be quick and I had to present forward and direct, and I had to be assertive because I was my parent’s voice.  My childhood is drenched in adult responsibilities because the color of my skin and the neighborhood my dad’s income afforded us meant that my childhood was different.

We glamorize the hustle, but we forget that some of us have hustled our entire lives that we don’t know how to stop, and we don’t know how to date people who were allowed to be children without feeling and vilifying our own contexts.  As if these adults we are dating, who were allowed to be children because of all the brown kids who were criminalized and had their towns pillaged for their white privileged childhoods to look like they did.  

Like I said, I was raised to survive while other more privileged children were raised to enjoy their lives.   I was raised with a particular awareness of myself in relationship to other people.  I was raised to keep my guard up.  I was raised to take care of myself, just in case.  

Yes, my childhood made me grow up fast in a lot of ways.  But it also gave me great tools for making it.  This world is harsh and cruel to brown kids, and brown people in general, my childhood taught me exactly that…I think that as a society we need to get to a place where we stop ridiculing parents who raise their kids in nontraditional ways and look towards the ills that make people grow up this way.  
We also need to stop glamorizing the hustle, because that Latinx work ethic is also killing a lot of us: we need to also dance, laugh, and learn how to enjoy ourselves outside the hustle.  I write this as someone who has been engrained into the hustle mentality, and as someone who feels guilt when I stop.  I say this for me.

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