Growing up I was taught to color inside of the lines. I loved school, it was a place to shine outside of my older sibling’s shadow. And coloring was one of those activities that I could ace from day one.
Open the big yellow crayon box, and look for the right color to match the image. A flower is red or pink. Blue is obviously not an option for the flowers. Blue can color the sky, and green can match the stem.
Grab the crayon gently, you start moving it back and forth WITHIN the lines, with small strokes. When you get close to the edge you make sure to slow down. Keep going this way until you’ve covered all of the images in the paper.
If you’re anything like my sister, you can take the extra time to O-U-T-L-I-N-E every single object in the page by its color ahead of time. [roll eyes] My older brothers followed the rules, the language barrier set them apart from the rest already. No need to call out more attention.
My theory is that my siblings and I excelled in the Chicago Public School system because of this willingness to color inside of lines. Faced with a class of 30 hyperactive kids, most teachers appreciated the quiet one that sits and actually colors.
My brother’s theory is that we were too poor to fit in. [Shrug, maybe] It takes money to be one of the crowd, even within a lower-income inner city public school systems there’s a caste that forms: there are levels of poverty that each kid enters the classroom with.
I do know that every time I put away my crayon box I would earn a sticker for my coloring skills. My drawings stayed in the classroom for my teachers to admire. My parents had never heard of the concept of putting up artwork.
Coloring inside the lines earned me a sticker in kindergarten. By first grade I was correcting the class quizzes rather than going to recess (the beginning of my love for red lining!) instead of going to recess. This endeared me even more to the teachers that were more concerned about their work load and less of my challenges making friends, and socializing with kids my age (a concept that was not in vogue until the ’00s).
My sister, the one that outlined all of the colors, she became a surgeon. I, on the other hand, went a path more traveled – corporate america. I started my career in the renaissance age of tech: when companies were focused on doing no evil while turning a blind eye to rampant sexual harassment and quietly building a monopoly. But these are just small details behind capitalism at its best.
I’ve floundered in the corporate structure since the beginning. Some brief respites has made it possible for me to hang in through the daily grind. I’ve been known as ‘necia’, stubborn, since I was a five year old, and how I wish I could update my LinkedIn profile to read:
Mid-career professional that excels in data management, executive babysitting, and falling forward.
I sit in frustration listening to the woke rhetoric of today. Without a doubt I agree that black and brown lives matter. Having painfully pulled myself out of the humiliation of growing up poor in America as the daughter of Mexicans that crossed the border in the 70s, I can tell you first hand that systemic racism, sexism, intersectionality exists.
I am frustrated, and ashamed, because it is only until recently that I realized that I could have [and should have!] been coloring outside of the lines this entire time. I had a choice??!?
What an irony that I spent the first 30 years of my conscious existence trying to assimilate. Be like the rest. Sound like the rest: your spoken english must be impeccable; look like the rest: cover up your dark skin with the preppiest clothes you. Don’t stand out.
So this is what it’s like to love your story. The one that makes you you. Rather than cower with shame of the poor that you grew out of, you sit back and take pride of the transgressions, the setbacks and hell, even the inequality. Yes, you and your family emerged out of that messiness of lower class America. And yes, you’ve hit the glass ceiling countless times, but with enough momentum, at the right angle, it may crack.