Bwog has hopped, poked, and swiftly skimmed, but now we’re inviting other writers into the Bwog Bubble. We think there’s lots of fantastic campus journalism out there that sometimes slips under the radar. In the spirit of Enlightenment salons from centuries past, we present our newest feature, BwogSalon. Bwog asked the editors of each publication on campus to send us a teaser article from their most recent issue—something distinctly representative of their point of view, but still accessible. Below, check out Carlos Blanco’s piece from Sanctum: The Undergraduate Journal of Religion at Columbia University. You’ll make your fave French intellectual and your spiritually searching sister proud.
I Got It from My Mama
I was pretty young when I realized my family was poor. I think it had something to do with seeing what my family had versus what the American media told us we should have. We didn’t have a second-story house, there was no pool in our backyard, and going out to eat meant a very special occasion. But, while my family saw our share of struggles, every Sunday during mass, my mom would donate twenty dollars to the collection pin.
Now, I know twenty dollars is not a hefty amount of cash, but, to a seven-year- old kid, twenty dollars was the world. Thoughts of the things I would have bought—Pokemon cards, toys, and candy—would haunt me as I saw my mom give her weekly tithe.
But, more than lamenting the things I missed out on, I never understood why my mother gave up her hard-earned money to St. Bernadette’s, and it often angered me. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the hypocrisy: how come the Church needed more money than we did? If God was so powerful, then why should we have to help him? It was all the more perplexing, given how much those donations affected us; most Sundays, my mother would quietly pat my head and tell me we couldn’t even afford to buy donuts on the way home, like the other kids. My mother’s actions only seemed to reinforce some of the doubts I began to have about religion in general.
During my first year at Columbia, my financial situation stood out with a new starkness against the backdrop of mostly wealthy students that surrounded me. It reinforced how poor I was, and I have to admit that, once again, I felt ashamed. Back home, the kids in my community tended to reach an understanding: they knew they had to cut corners and find creative ways to be active that didn’t involve spending. I couldn’t say the same about Morningside Heights.
My first group of friends at Columbia loved to spend money. I was newly liberated and having a bankcard didn’t hurt, so I tried my best to keep up with them and to leave the limitations of my childhood behind. Inevitably, I couldn’t afford frequent sushi dinners and to see every concert or new movie, as my newfound Manhattanite lifestyle demanded. I felt defeated, and, at the same time, terrified of missing out.
I had another very scary realization during my first semester of college as I struggled to fit in: Columbia University breeds classism. We don’t like to say it, but, in reality, these institutions of higher learning exist to replicate the privilege that established them. If you’re poor here, it means you have to invent your social life, not just buy it. Columbia did its best to make sure that, as a student of color, I would have the resources I needed to feel empowered, but not as a student of low income.
Truthfully, it was a bitter moment when I realized how out of place I felt during my first semester. But, after making some pretty embarrassing admissions to my mother over winter break about my spending, I resolved not to succumb to those social pressures any longer. I had lost sight of the values with which I was raised. Money became solely about satisfying my own exaggerated material “needs” and not about helping to ease the pain, and dire situations of others.
It was also the year I realized why my mother—despite our struggles—donates money every week to the Church. I had grouped together the Catholic practice of tithing with all the other traditionally Catholic rituals in which my family engaged. Many of them seemed thoughtless and repetitive. Many of them I don’t practice on my own when I’m at school. But I understood that it had been a mistake to group my mom’s contributions to charity with the rest of the things with which I grew up, because supporting the poor doesn’t have to depend on religious affiliation.
My mother donates money because she understands what it’s like to be poor. It’s the same reason why she gives money to people on the street or tips annoyingly well at restaurants: she grew up in small-town Texas in a poor Mexican family. But, just because she’s been able to provide for herself, doesn’t mean she could forget her community. When my mom makes a donation, it doesn’t matter that we’re poor or that we’ve struggled—what matters is that someone will be fed or clothed or given something special. In reality, actually knowing what it’s like to be poor can be one of the most powerful catalysts for charitable activity. As I learned at Columbia, many of the privileged people with whom I was surrounded dedicated a much smaller percentage of their ample time and resources than my mother did back home, despite their advantages.
I haven’t always been the devout Catholic I was raised to be, but, despite a few missteps, the values of social justice I learned from my mother have stayed with me. I may not be able to afford the luxuries available in Morningside Heights, but I’m doing significantly better than a lot of people, well enough to contribute my share. My mother gives a damn. And now, so do I.