I recently had an argument with my boyfriend about money, which molded itself—not on purpose—into a conversation about my freedom.
Here is where my story begins. Growing up in a working-class, lower-income immigrant family, I was happy. I never felt like I needed more. We had food on the table, clean clothes, and lots of love. That was all I needed. Growing up, I never had the best school supplies, the best toys, or the best clothes. However, I always lived in a fantasy world. I was always aware that there was more to life than what I was limited too. I always wanted to experience life. I always wanted more.
My parents taught me how to survive—and that's how I know how to live—I survive to live.
Now, I survive, but in a different way than when I was younger. I work in order to get my finances back on track and try to get out of the hole before I go in deeper. The thing is, I still want to enjoy life. My family never went out for dinner because it was too expensive. We never went on family vacations because there wasn't any money. We never over spent on anything because we were living from check to check.
But now I want to experience that part of life that I didn't when I was younger. It's selfish of me to be spending money on my enjoyment rather than on more important things, but I want to experience what's out there. Unfortunately, that sometimes means being broke.
My boyfriend was blaming me for not eating right, for living from check to check, delaying some bills, and worrying about money. He said it was my fault because I could easily go back to living with my parents and have an easier life or I could move away from Lakeview and into a cheaper neighborhood.
What was my defense? Living in Cicero I felt closed off. I had no transportation. I had no community. I had no outlet. Living with my parents (while I love them) was limiting. Here in Lakeview and on my own, I can go any where in this beautiful city. I can experience new things. And I can enjoy going out to a community where I don't have to closet myself.
Yes, I am out in Cicero, but you have to agree—it's not the same. When I walk around, people stare, they talk, and I get the names. Every time I walk into those streets I take a risk. If I have to pay hundreds of dollars to live in a place where I can feel more relaxed—I can walk with my boyfriend hand in hand, I can feel like the majority—then so be it. GLBTQ people come from all over the place to be in the vicinity I live in. They spend their money on drinks, clubs, and transportation for a few hours of freedom and then have to go back home.
While sometimes I feel like I don't belong in this classist, elitist, mostly white neighborhood, it's still a piece of home. I love Cicero, but it's honestly not the greatest place to live. I'm proud of where I come from and where my heart is. I never pretend to know the struggle of working in factory assembly lines or breaking my back working the jobs that are left for immigrants to deliver. I know I haven't killed myself like my parents, and my hands are free from calluses. I never pretend to be someone I'm not, but I've worked hard too.
I try to be a change agent for my community—I try to help people, I try to make an impact—and I do most of this work either for free or for a wage that I can barely get by on.
So yes, my life is a bit messy and some bills go unpaid—but you know what … money comes and goes. I know that one day I will be able to not only survive, but also thrive. Maybe one day I'll be a Tico Valle or a Mona Noriega—or maybe I won't, but all I want is to be happy. I'm happy living where I am. If I have to pay so much for freedom, then right now that's what I'm willing to do.
My boyfriend was living in Aurora where he felt alone and far from living the life he wanted to live. He wasn't happy, and he saw that while I'm struggling, I am happy. He started to understand where I was coming from—and where I wanted to go in life.
I'm young. I have met amazing people and I have done things that I am proud of. I have helped my community and love doing what I do. I have done things with my life that I never knew I would have that opportunity to do.
I want to experience life and not let it pass me by. I fully understand that to have fun, you do not need to spend lots of money, but sometimes to experience things—you do.
You only live once, and I plan on taking full advantage of my life. One day, I hope to look back and think of how difficult things can get, but know that I survived with a cosmopolitan in one hand, a calculator in the other, and a life full of memories.
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