The Entryway

The rabbit hole isn’t as far away as you think…

The topic is communism and China.

“Do you guys feel like you are free to do and say what you want in the U.S.?”

Not a hand. Not a word. I’m not speaking their language.

Okay, let’s switch gears I think, as I look at the kid who has the letters “F”, “U”, “C”, “K” tattooed on his fingers, sitting next to the 7-month pregnant sophomore girl who couldn’t be further away from thoughts of the restricted freedoms of the Chinese.

Let’s try due process…

“How many of you have ever known someone who has had to go to court?”

Almost the whole class raises their hand. Now they are getting it. I tell them how I was nearly arrested in Beijing for trying to give away an extra ticket to an Olympic soccer game, and how not one police officer would listen to what I had to say. This they got.

Every semester I teach International Relations to high school students in the Los Angeles inner city. Some classes are less difficult than others, but they are never easy. This semester I am teaching at Fremont high school, where less than 14% of students tested proficient or better in the English language, and less than 60% of students graduated last year.

The worst part, the fear of which I have finally conquered, is getting up in front of a class of mostly Latino and African American students living below or just above the poverty line, and watching them size me up. They know I’m not fluent in “them.”

Usually they don’t care that I’m there. They don’t care about what I have to say. I have had classes where students wreak of marijuana at 8:15 in the morning. I have had other students picking out baby names in the final months of their pregnancy. Apathy and resignation doesn’t come just from the students, however. I once had a teacher tell me that these students were destined for nothing more than failure and poverty, and that he had accepted this “fact” long ago.

The bottom line: I always feel like a stranger.

And I always feel guilty.

Flooded with these feelings, it was a terrible idea to watch “The Blindside” right after my first day back to teaching. Even though my mom pointed out that it is supposed to be a happy movie, I spent the better half of the movie in tears. There are so many kids who don’t get the opportunities that Michael Oher got. Why am I so lucky? Why did I get the life that I got? Why did I get born into a family who loves me and cares about my well-being?

Thank you Sandra, now I know.

“The Blindside” is a story of extraordinary kindness, not pity. I should not be guilty when I teach at Fremont. I know that I have been given the privileges and blessings in this lifetime because I am meant to use them to help others. Period.

There is nothing that differentiates me from any of the kids in my classroom, except that the universe decided to give me face cards, for some arbitrary reason. Why run away from the frustration of these weekly classes? This is an opportunity to learn, to experience, to participate, rather than observe.

Speaking of participating, I recently came upon this L.A. journalism project that I found enormously heroic and revolutionary. In this changing world, journalists are challenged to find new ways of telling stories. Devin Browne and Kara Mears have found a way to bridge two lifestyles that we typically keep as far apart as physically possible.

Los Angeles is “my city.” A city of great live music, flea market treasures, valets, LuluLemon hillltop hikes, palm trees and seashells and green tea lattes and ethnic food. But my L.A. is not the only L.A.

The Entryway is a revolutionary project, one that I encourage you all to explore. These two young reporters have moved into a roach-infested entryway of the house of  a Mexican immigrant family living in MacArthur Park, a toilet-paper-sharing, police-raid, gang-member, television-addicted L.A., one that challenges every norm and perspective they have come to know was well-to-do white women, who have never had to question the challenges of toilet paper,  or anything else for that matter. I’ll take a page from their book.

Life is about perspective.

Even from an entryway.

Time to find my own entryway.

(Photo Credit 1: Rachel Tobias)

(Photo Credit 2: Kara Mears)


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