“Next”! She yells at me while I stand recovering from the short drive over to the office-I was hot and sweaty, it was the end of summer, but in that moment I was reminded how the heat in the Inland Empire does not let up in late summer/early fall and neither does the judgement. I returned to my hometown soon after my successful dissertation defense with no job, no place to live permanetly, and was feeling hopeless.

I stood with my four year old son in line waiting for a hour in a social service office on Mission Blvd in front of my old middle school. I have realized standing in similar lines throughout graduate school and while finishing my undergraduate degrees that a person’s education level sometimes doesn’t feel like it makes a difference when you are first to go to college, do so without family support and then become a working poor single mama survivor and aways feel like you are half a paycheck away from disaster. Being in college does not mean you get to be immune from the social conditions in U.S. society and I learned that long ago in community college seeing how it is automatically assumed that just because you go to one you are labeled as less than and inferior not only as a student, but people will laugh if you tell them you go to community college. It is a joke. To them it isn’t real, but to you it is the only chance left. It is a life line. It is the stepping stone to make it to places they never said you could.

Never be ashamed for how you have survived.
Never be ashamed for standing in lines.

I remember the case workers how some would be nice, most often though they were judgemental. It seemed you can never escape the judgement-from school counselors and financial aid offices, from your family to case workers. Funny how it is the people who have access to the resources that you need is where you also find the people who judge you the most and instead of receiving a road map, it seems when they know you are desperate you get more barriers.

I swore to my self I would never feel ashamed again for asking for help, but here I was having to explain to the social services worker why I was in the situation I was in. I began to cry in front of her and she looked stunned realizing perhaps her questions were unnecessary (they were). When they find out my education level it becomes even more unbelievable to them, but I hardly think I am the only person with a Ph.D. that has had to ask for support and assistance. Given the privatization of education and lack of tenure track jobs, it is more widespread  among Ph.D.’s to be on assistance of some kind, but at the same time, I realize having a Ph.D. or being in graduate school is something as a Chicana that is not common. We remain only .02 percent of all Ph.D.’s earned in the U.S.

It is hard to talk about these things with peers who perhaps have the support of a partner with a steady income or with peers who have parental support and are pretty well off. While there were some friends who were in similar situations like me, as mothers in the academy and especially as single mothers, we were already marginalized just as bad as we were in society and the degrees provided no shield in certain situations. Especially when you walk into interviews trying to get a job while you are seven months pregnant and they ask you (illegally) how are you going to perform these job duties with a newborn. You respond well this job begins a month after I have him, it’ll be ok. They stare at your belly. You wish you can tell them how bad you need this, but it’s hopeless. You knew with their question it was done. Just like your health insurance ended a few months later while you were still healing from a difficult  birth.

This is America. You pay and they will punish.

I think back about all of this while standing in that line to where I was standing in a different lines only months before, I was in cap and gown waiting to walk across the stage and receive my doctoral hood while holding my son.

We stand in lines together and I stand in these lines now like many mothers for him so that he can have the opportunity and access to basic human rights. That is something I will never feel ashamed for. That is something I didn’t feel ashamed for when I had to stand in those lines before I had him. Being a Chicana who had to navigate school mostly on her own after moving out of my parents home at age 18 was not easy. Sometimes I pride myself on never taking a dime from them, but then I realize that they raised me with that false sense of “bootstrap” mentality. You can’t pull yourself up if you have no boots. To think anyone can make it completly alone in this society is false.

We all need community to reach our goals and I have learned your community is what you define it to be. Your community will support you and when times are hard they are standing right there with you in line even when you feel alone. Remember them. They believed in you.

They still do.

If someone makes you feel ashamed or puts you down, realize these are not people who will help get you to where you want to go and perhaps they never were. Let them go.

Never be ashamed for how you have survived.
Never be ashamed for standing in lines.

I was temporary placed off work recently for stress realted to some horrible things and the future is uncertain yet again-that half paycheck away from homelessness, but whatever lines it may lead to again, I will not be shamed. I will do what I need to do just like I always have and when things seem hopeless I will remember I am not alone and neither are you standing in lines with those degrees or without them. You deserve your basic human rights. We all do.

Photo: Me and my son around the time I got kicked off state health insurance and after I couldn’t find a job because of being a new mama.

For more on Community Colleges as a pathway to the Ph.D. for Chicana/os see:

For more on people with Ph.D.’s living in poverty see:

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