Youth Opinion : 'What Was to Become of Me If I Didn't Attend School?'

Maria Isabel Tinoco, 18, is a senior at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles

When I was in the 10th grade, my mom told me to drop out of school and get a job to help her support the family. I was barely 16. When she suggested this to me, I was doing my math homework. I closed my book. I couldn't believe what she was asking.

I understood that she needed money and that I was the right person to ask. I have four older sisters and two older brothers, but she couldn't count on any of them at the time. My older brothers had gone back to Mexico--one to escape gangs, the other to escape cocaine. My younger brother and sister were too little, and my older sisters were already married and didn't have jobs. That left me. I felt sorry for my mom. She had to struggle, working as a motel maid to get ahead.

But I didn't want to risk my education, the one thing I love most in the world besides her. I had a life too. Why should I sacrifice my education for a few cents? What was to become of me if I didn't attend school? I could earn money to support my "beautiful" family and maybe have some left to send to Mexico.

What a family! Seven siblings who don't care about each other, and two--the gangster and the drug addict--who don't even care about themselves. My sisters never listen to me when I tell them my problems. I don't help my siblings with their homework. No way!

If I dropped out of school, I would have worked in a fast-food restaurant or as a maid. I would be exploited and mistreated by my bosses the rest of my life because I didn't have an education. Maybe by this time I would already have three kids like my sisters, who never went to school. They cared more about helping mom and going out with guys than attending school.

School is so much better here than it was in Mexico. My teachers were mean to me. One day, a teacher whipped me because I didn't understand how to multiply by three. I knew I was dumb. But my teacher made me even more stupid by hitting me. She frightened me. I hated her and school in general. My mom didn't know how bad my teacher punished me. She worked too hard in the fields. She was weary when she got home. I didn't want to worry her.

Here I am treated nicely. My chemistry teacher sits with me to explain the assignment when I don't understand. I don't know why American kids ditch.

In my neighborhood, very few people care about education. Sometimes they tell me I'm weird because I'm always reading or doing my homework. I don't know why I'm different.

I convinced my mom that I should stay in school, and since then, her attitude has changed. She admires me and supports me now. When I turned 18, she threw a party because she thought it was a miracle to have me at home. My four older sisters got married before they were that age. Recently, I got a letter from an assistant professor of the University of La Verne, inviting me to visit. I read it to Mom. She was excited, but then she stared at me with a sad expression. She told me that I couldn't go. The University of La Verne is only for rich people. We don't have enough money to pay my college expenses. Instead I have to work after high school to help support my younger siblings.

I hugged Mom, telling her how much I appreaciated her for caring about my education. I also told her not to worry about it. Why should we get frustrated about not having money for college? I will somehow. I will take at least one writing class at a community or junior college. I won't let anything stop me from getting what I want. Before I wouldn't have been able to think this way, but having Mom's support makes it much easier. I don't ask her for help. I just want her support to feel capable of doing all I have dreamed of.

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