An Unforeseen Journey
submitted by Randy William Santiago
I had been asked numerous times before leaving to China for my studies why in fact I had decided to do so. The ideal answer would have explained how the study abroad program had courses that suited my major quite nicely, or that my relentless thirst for knowledge brought me to the eastern sector of the world, where the philosophy focuses more on self reflection and group outcomes, instead of self progressions and consistent competition amongst one’s own kind. Such reasons seem to be well thought out ones in regard to individual progression; however, they are not exactly the forces that fuels my drive.
With having been brought up in a low-income neighborhood, I had never thought of traveling to any region of the known world, let alone a fellow state. My mother, having raised me and my siblings primarily on her own, was never presented with the opportunity to move forward economically. The notion of the “American Dream” was nothing more to her than a false hope that once encouraged her to strive consistently, but later diminished as the hardships grew worse.
Working a minimum wage job was typical for members of the Humboldt Park community in Chicago. My mother worked for the minimum wage all of her life, which made many struggles inevitable, or so it seemed. The biggest of these struggles were to find food to eat daily and consistent financial income to cover our living expenses.
Often time my mother was faced with the difficult choice of either backing out of paying for rent, gas, or electricity, in order to provide myself and my three siblings with a meal for the night. It was not often that we would eat much during the day, but if we did, then it was likely that the night would be an empty one. My mother would sacrifice anything if it meant that her children would be safe; and that is what caused the horror to become.
For some time my immediate family and I had not a steady home to reside in, so my mother would rent out a room from an acquaintance of hers, and that is where we would spend our nights for about three months. I remember that timespan vividly, for it was the summer after I had completed the first grade; I was seven years old. This was after my mother had broken up with her abusive counterpart Tony, but that is a story for another day.
Nevertheless, after living in such location for the summer we had moved to the south side of Chicago for two months, before moving back to the Humboldt park neighborhood. This pattern continued on for sometime; the changing of residences that is. Then we had come to a stop for four years. Until this day I reference those four years as being the worst of my life.
Shortly after meeting Dave, my mother allowed him the opportunity to live with us. An opportunity that she should never have presented, for he remained only as a nuisance. The abuse started only a month into the relationship and continued on for four years more. Bruised and battered was the typical appearance of my mother, and it destroyed me internally. Hearing her scream and cry made me feel as if she were a prisoner of war being held against her own will. It was a ravaging experience, as well a painful one. Often time I could not recognize my mother, for the bruises and welts took over the beautiful appearance that she had formerly possessed.
My sense of faith, confidence, and safety all deteriorated daily as these instances were occurring. My body would tremble, as it does currently, due to the overwhelming anger that filled my mind. More than anything I grew angry with myself for not being able to prevent the abuse, and my mother for not fighting back. Now that I look back at the instance I acknowledge that she accepted the abuse in order to ensure that we were in no harm. It is an unfortunate instance to recall, but life is one unfortunate phenomena in all.
After all of these instances my relations with my mother withered away. Never again had we held a genuine conversation, nor did we communicate at all. The bond drifted as her aspirations did, away. She no longer cared to work, nor did she care to provide for us. With having been evicted three times, consecutively, I had given up all hope. I left my mother’s home to go into that of my father’s, whom I did not know much about.
Living with my father was a brief and awkward experience. Never did I feel welcomed into the home, while always I felt like a burden of sorts. It was not long before he had kicked me out, and forced me to shuffle around the state of Illinois for a home to reside in. When not residing in my dormitory at Concordia University-Chicago, I would migrate between the homes of relatives and friends. Such stays were brief and difficult, but they provided enough for me to make it by. This has been my current living arrangement since July 4, 2013. I definitely found independence on that day.
As I continued on with my first semester at Concordia, I had come across mention of an opportunity to study abroad in the city of Chengdu, China. Such an opportunity seemed unreachable to me, for I felt that I would not possess the necessary finances to make it by outside of the United States. I barely made it by when at home, however, the opportunity to study differing cultures has always intrigued me. With having gone through the tedious process of applying for the program, maintaining stellar academic progressions throughout the semester in order to ensure scholarship aid, and taking out loans to cover the remainder of my tuition, as well to pay off my passport and visa fees, I have made it to China.
It has been exactly a week since I first arrived in Chengdu, and I must say it is the most beautiful place that I have ever seen. The culture so rich and the people are so genuine. The states does not compare in any fashion.
I may have gone through financial setbacks to have gotten here, but I do not regret them in anyway. The American society has convinced people of my kind, the “minorities” by title, that we cannot excel in any vocation, as well that we will not move up the socioeconomic ladder, but I am here to put that stereotype to rest.
I have come to China with the mindset that I can conquer any goal, regardless of how difficult the setbacks may be. My decision to study abroad was decided upon the day that I spoke out about my mother’s abuse; the day that society said “minorities” will always remain; the day that my father let me out. As an individual who has nothing, I am willing to risk everything. Life is too short to live with fear. Life has instilled me with a sense of reassurement that all of my hardships will be redeemed, and all of my insecurities vanquished. Never will I discontinue my pursuit to a better future, for I know that it lies ahead of me.
China is an arena that shows promise; a country filled with opportunity. Thus I will take any opportunity that it may present to me. I have not come to China to study only, no, I have come to China to live my life in a fashion that I would not even dare dream of.
Now my dreams are vast and my determination limitless.
- Randy William Santiago
“ To accomplish great things , we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” ~ Anatole France