I am a fundraiser by pure conviction. I am an expert in the art of asking since the day –I was 16 years old- I sold chocolate bars among friends and neighbors to finance the renovations on the campus of my school in the United States. I asked because I knew the benefit was collective and above all I understood that we all make a difference with our gestures of individual support and provide greater meaning and possibility to the communities that we serve. Imagine, for a moment, a world full of small individual contributions that multiply their impact for the benefit of a community. I am today a fundraiser and my debut in this profession occurred when I was 16 years old.
I want to welcome you to my blog, thanking you for joining me in this new space about the Art of Asking, an art that fascinates me and I want to share with you by telling you my first experience in the art of asking. This is a personal story that showed me, when I was 16 years old, that education it is not an equal opportunity, and that I have to be grateful for the fact of being part of a family that is committed to my growth. These are my learnings when I turned 16 years old. Come back with me to the August 31, 1989…
I took my first plane after deciding my parents that I would study my junior year of high school in the United States, in Sacramento, the capital of California. Heading to my American paradise’ destiny, I took the plane, dressed with new shoes and new jacket. It was the day of my 16th birthday. The longest day of my life. I crossed the ocean and took four planes, living each takeoff and landing with a tingling in my stomach. I finally arrived at my destination and the very first thing my host family (a single mother with her daughter) told me was “We cannot host you. We do not have any resources”. That blew my mind. I was speechless, I felt empty and lost.
I faced difficult moments alone in a strange country, thousands of miles from my family and friends, no Internet, no Google. I was chattering with some brash a foreign language. After three months in America, I became aware of the differences and barriers to access education. Many of my colleagues, most newcomers to America, were still in shock when I met them. They had left behind their loved ones, unable to make their choice and pushed by their families to achieve a better life. Many of them worked in harsh conditions and studied to support their families to get ahead.
My high school -located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Sacramento- had a metal detectors, 24 hours police surveillance, a nursery with children of students and metallic barriers in the courtyard walls to prevent escapes and raids between students of different races. I spent the first two weeks in the immigrants’ center of the school. Because I didn’t speak the language well enough, I was considered an immigrant. It was a center where newcomers, particularly the Latinos, received a first bath immersion in the culture, manners and especially learned the language. I felt part of the gang.
The personal stories of my classmates touched me. All had reached the desired America in harsh circumstances, leaving behind loved ones and especially risking their lives to achieve their dream for a life with opportunities. Many had crossed the border on foot. Others, hidden in the trailer of a truck. I felt shame, fear of being rejected by my first friends and felt an enormous gratitude. I had come to America with an economy class ticket and passport, thanks to a firm commitment from my parents. I remember that my colleagues were no attending many of the classes. I wanted to know why. The answers were a reality check for me. Absences were because they had to care for siblings during the absence of their parents, or because they had to work to pay the light, or have a hot meal each day, or simply because they were broken emotionally and disoriented to a strange new culture.
After two weeks in the immigration center, I whispered –with shame- to a teacher that my entry into the country had been without risks and dangers, only with new shoes and new jacket, and with a tourist flight ticket paid by my parents. It was one of the most difficult moments for me. It was my first request. The next day I left the immigration center and joined regular classes.
The economic situation of my host family was desperate. My American mother had a precarious job and received help from social services to care for her daughter. She gave it all to me, when she hardly had anything, and made me feel the warmth of her home, a broken home without optimistic lights about the future. I learned that she was taking Spanish lessons, subsidized by the government, at the University of Sacramento. We decided to talk to Gerardo, her Spanish professor. I just remember asking from my heart: “Gerardo, Welcome me in your house.” Five minutes after the request, the suitcases were ready in the trunk of Gerardo’ car.
Being 16 years old, a question came to my mind: Why me? At that time words like thanks and gratitude invaded my body and mind. I’m not in touch with any of the classmates of the immigration center. Our different destinies separated us. Meeting them was my great awakening. I became aware of the barriers that impede access to quality education. I became aware of the differences between equal beings and how being born in one place or another could make such a difference. I became aware of how lucky I am, for having a family who invested in my personal growth. This awareness fueled my passion to know how to ask, and also my passion to work as a fundraiser, by pure conviction. At 16 years old, I raised funds by selling candy bars to my schoolmates and neighboring families to finance renovations on campus in my high school in America.
My relationship with the art of asking does not end here. It started at age 16 and every day I continue writing new chapters on the art of giving, asking and receiving. Thanks for awakening generosity, by giving without expecting anything in return.
Generosity is a life choice. Asking is giving, and when you give, you always receive.
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