I remember the first time I was invited to a college celebration hosted by The Center of Mexican American Affairs program. The event was a Tardeada, an afternoon party, complete with live music, mariachis, and wood instruments. But what I remember most were platters and platters of fresh fruits. It was as if someone had put a filter over my eyes: the strawberries were swollen and flaming red with a dazzling shine. The pineapple was cut with precision and piled like a mountain of gold nuggets. The tables were covered in white linen cloth that made the colors pop like a canvas. Though distracted by the food, I found myself choked up: why was I so overcome with emotion? The food was for me.
This display was a startling contrast to my usual dinner table—covered with plastic doilies protected under an oversized clear plastic table cloth. Fruit was found in my refrigerator as remnants of old dehydrated grapes, overripe bananas, and bruised Red Delicious apples. I had always hated apples. I didn’t understand the lure, all I ever tasted was a bitter skin with a hint of pesticides, there was no crunch like the fruit label read, instead it was a mealy soft flesh with hidden brown spots. To avoid biting into the “bad part” proved to be too time-consuming to even bother.
I discovered the crunchy sweetness of an apple in my 20s when I tried something other than the Red Delicious assigned to my tray in school the cafeteria.I have always been a finicky eater. I attribute it to having been served food that went against my visual aesthetic and the texture on my tongue (slimy eggs).
So, what if I was so used to the grainy, mealy apple that I can’t truly enjoy a crisp tangy Honeycrisp apple without remembering what I used to eat?
Today I find myself struggling living among the wealthy, acting as if this life is familiar to me, as if I know intuitively how to be in an environment that is reserved for the affluent. The truth is, I am happy to be here, happy to feel safe, happy not to be looking over my shoulder. But to be here has requirements and prerequisites I am not sure I can meet.
How do I live here in the plush green gardens, among houses that employ staff? How do I sit next to famous athletes, financial whizzes, scientific geniuses, brilliant writers, accomplished musicians, and entertainment legends? The answer is that I live on someone else’s dime.
The shame cripples me.
If I were a lawyer, I could charge for every phone call in fifteen-minute increments, serving someone who needed legal help. If I were a therapist, I could charge for the time I am on the phone consoling a parent who is struggling with their child or a wife who is in conflict with her ex-husband. If I were a coach, I could charge parents for the encouragement, self-esteem building and skills I teach on the football field and basketball court. If I were a writer, I would get compensated for every thought that made it to paper, every word, every line, and every page.
The truth is that I am profoundly efficient at each of these roles; I can’t imagine quitting any of these positions. This is who I am and what I do. How do I place a monetary value on being me, Angelica Victoria Hernandez, Ph.D.?
P.S. I need a job, Curriculum Vitae and references available upon request.