Disclaimer: this is not an Anti-America post. This is a simple opinion piece on issues that affect many Americans, and a reflection on how it has affected me. I'm pointing out certain things that have happened in hopes to spark awareness. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Army, Department of Defense, or the US Government.
My awareness started three years ago. I was on a service immersion trip to Cincinnati, Ohio and a man asked me, "Why are you so eager to travel abroad to help people, when our own country is broken and needs help?". What I learned in Cincinnati started the ripple effect of my awareness. Poverty in America is hidden from the public eye, and Americans living in poverty resemble third world countries, more than we like to admit.
A year later, I ran into a personal problem, I had to get a pulmonary function test to clear my "childhood asthma" before I commissioned into the Army. Since I didn't have health insurance, and didn't have two grand laying around to pay for it, I quickly learned how poverty, health and oppression work hand in hand. As I was fighting the Army to pay for a health clearance they wanted, this battle nearly costed my commission, and ruined my credibility with Cadre. From that point I started learning about America's healthcare system and I was disgusted. As I graduated a year later, I started to theorize a false sense of education taught in college. Then Vanessa Guillen disappeared from Fort Hood, and during her search someone else's body was found near base. I knew I had to publish this article when I learned that southern states do not have functioning infrastructures to deal with snow, and instead "shut down".
1. Poverty in America is hidden and poor people are scrutinized for needing help
Easily, one of the hardest trips I have ever been to. Israel and Cincinnati are tied. The emotional distress and discomfort are something I still think about today. My trip to Cincinnati was depressing. It was so hard that one of our peers had to leave. Seeing poverty in America made me cry every night. What these people experienced, and on top of struggling, the way they were treated reminded me of the time my mother and I had to go to a food bank. It's already humiliating having to ask for food when you're hungry, but then to be dehumanized… When we volunteered to distribute food at the pantry, I had no choice but to walk out and smoke cigarets very other hour, otherwise I would cry in front of people.
It was the first time that I saw what gentrification can do to an already struggling community. My breaking point was the second to last day. We went to a church that sheltered Mexican immigrants, and when a mother was sharing her story of crossing the border I fucking broke down. I started uncontrollably sobbing, and I couldn't move. My peers had to walk me outside, where I proceeded to light a camel crush. I will never forget her words, "things are so bad in Mexico that getting into a truck with no oxygen is better than dying in Mexico, I had to try. When I finally opened my eyes I looked around me, and unknowingly woke up next to other dead bodies of people that didn't make". That was the first moment I thought, "Isn't it crazy that this is happening on our turf? It's happening here in America, our land, and you can't blame Mexican's when it is happening on our soil!". Maybe the US isn't this great place that we think it is… or at least it's not great when you are brown…
2. If your parents don't have healthcare you might as well sign your death certificate
When Grace died, I changed a lot. One of the initial changes was my desire to be honest. I felt guilty for her overdose, and I thought it was because I wasn't honest and didn't ask the hard questions. Right before advance camp I changed my answers and decided to be honest. I put "yes" for, "had you ever smoked marijuana", and my childhood asthma. Not thinking that it would cause me to be drug tested more often, and the pulmonary bull shit that would follow.
My mom has medicaid, because she doesn't make enough money to pay for her own healthcare. Since I obtained my citizenship at age 8, my mom has applied for my medicaid and every year it was denied. During college, I had the student plan, but it only covers like 7 things. When I had to do a pulmonary function test to be medically cleared, I had to get a referral and pay for it out of pocket, two grand to be exact. Two grand that I don't have, and had I done on my own, would have been in debt with no income until after graduating.
I spoke with the Lieutenant Colonel, and I will never forget how this made me feel, because I almost started crying during our LLAB at North Park. I told him that I didn't have health insurance and he didn't believe me. He thought I was lying. He said, "that's impossible, everyone has some form of health insurance". I bit the inside of my cheeks until they bled to hold back the tears. Not only am I a minority, but I managed to be also in the minority of minorities that can't afford healthcare. Since that moment, every Cadre treated me worse. I was yelled at for being incompetent for not being able to get my pulmonary function test A.K.A. afford healthcare, basically because my mother is poor and can't afford healthcare, so the burden was then passed to me as I turned 18. No wonder my mother had a mental breakdown my Junior year of High School, all the pressure and injustice of being a minority, and a single mother costed her mental health. She was just doing the best she could. It's so easy to see now, how her best was constantly scrutinized for not being enough.
I started learning more about our healthcare system, and how it helps keep poor people, poor. If you can't afford healthcare, you're basically signing your death certificate. The worse part is not that this is happening, but that we don't know enough about it, and that the healthcare system is this way, because it's driven by profit. I started reading Health Justice, and I've had to put the book down every couple of pages, because otherwise I'd punch holes in my wall.
3. College means being in debt for 4 years for the rest of your life
Why is it normal to take out debt to pay for college? I don't understand why anyone would want to take out money to pay for 4 years and be in debt for the rest of their lives? Going to school in Chicago, it becomes more clear, although it doesn't follow any logic. Students take out 40K a year for private universities, because it signals "status".
The good thing about Naples, is that most people there are old money, and the crazy rich lives they live is real. Versus in Chicago, where people max out their cards and are living in debt just to make it seem like they have money. It was really easy to see while I was in greek life. People taking out loans, meaning out their credit cards and buying Gucci belts with financial aid money… literally WHY? Do you not know how interest works? I had credit card debt in college and once I paid it off I felt so free, it was honestly insane. I was freaking out because I left college with a 5K debt, and I found out that the average is 36K. I am SIX times below the average and I felt like my debt was crippling me, I can't fathom how anyone can handle anything above that.
The point I want to get across is that we put on a pedestal this life style. To go to college and be in greek life, and drink and party, yet 90% of the kids you see doing this are in debt. Can you imagine how different life would be if instead of Insta likes we each had our dollar amount of debt as the likes…
This makes sense though. Being a doctor, nurse and even just a PA is so expensive because our health care is profit driven. There's no need for college to be as expensive as it is, besides the point that it is profit driven. If over 90% of these kids are in debt to these institutions, they literally own you, lol.
4. Women aren't as safe from sexual harassment and assault as we like to think
Before Vanessa Guillen, there was LaVena Johnson, Tina Priest, and unfortunately many more. The first time I experienced sexual harassment was at Basic Camp,I was 19. This guy would only address me as easy dz. I just tried to ignore it, and he just got louder. It wasn't until my friends saw it happened, that we all sat down and talked, before I told our drill sergeant. Since, I have only experienced patronizing comments, which in comparison to my first encounter seem better.
The public seemed outraged by what happened to Vanessa, and the sad part is that sexual assault is an issue in our country in general. I think people were shocked because we are held at a higher standard. The reason why other women's' skeptical deaths haven't surfaced, is because it's meant to stay hidden. Sometimes these deaths are ruled as suicide. From what I've experienced, we are torn between accepting sexual harassment as part of our culture and acknowledging it to change it, and denial. There are programs designated to address sexual harassment and assault, but like any other program people fall through the cracks and people get better at hiding and deceiving the system. When you hear things like, "we don't have any sexual assault convictions", it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. It just means that people are walking away without getting convicted, and sometimes I wonder if this is the case to keep those numbers low… and be able to state deceiving statements like the one above.
5. Southern States still don't have infrastructure to deal with snow in 2021
I was very lucky to go to school in Chicago. When you're not from there, it's easy to hate on it. For all the Chicago haters: does your county have free access to healthcare based on your income? I did when I lived in Chicago. Not only did I receive free healthcare because I can't afford it, but the facilities and doctors were better than what I experienced once I moved back home to Florida. Also, we have salt. We have salt on our roads and side walks.
I was shocked when I found out that when southern states get snow, they do not have the infrastucure to salt the roads, and instead "shut down". Must be nice to be able to stay home during a snow day, but that's only 30% of the population. The other 70% still has to drive to work, they just do so while risking their lives because the roads are not salted. It's cool that you get to stay home, while you order food. Can you imagine if your fast food workers or super market employees stayed home too? You would be stranded, no food, no one to deliver your food and etc.
Now that Texans have suffered, are we going to fix their infrastructure? Are we going to hire workers to clear and salt the roads? Or are we going to allow another 100 plus car crash to occur?