"Thetrue meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect tosit"
- N. Henderson
On a stifling day last summer I sat underthe shady branches of a large mesquite tree in a village in Guanajuato, Mexico,eating popsicles with nine-year-old Mariana. I looked at the people and thesaplings we had just planted, and, at that moment, many pieces of my life cametogether. I felt fulfilled and focused.
I was born in Toluca, Mexico andhave returned regularly to visit family and friends. I have seen poverty (in myextended family) in Mexico as well as here in the United States, making me awareof vast inequalities. My father was born into a poor family in Mexico City, andwas the first in his family to go to college. I was raised in the U.S. in amiddle-class family that provided support for my brother and me. My parentsworked hard to move from our apartment into our own condominium. I feelespecially responsible as one who has grown up in two cultures to promote theadvancement of minorities and greater equality among people.
Sophomoreyear I volunteered at a center in Boston for inner-city youth from Somalia. Thechildren complained about their teachers, who seemed to give them homeworkwithout sufficient explanation, and they had few resources. Why, I wondered, isevery room at my high school equipped with new televisions and computers, whilesome kids just a few miles away can only dream of such resources?
InMexico, a classroom like mine is an even more distant dream. I have discussedthis dilemma in a group called Students of Color, and read relevant books, likeJonathan Kozol's Death At An Early Age. Talking and reading only does so much,however, and I decided I wanted to take action.
In my junior year manythings came together with my involvement in the Amigos De Las Americas program,which sends high-school students to Latin American countries to do public healthvolunteer work. To finance my trip, I raised almost $4,000 selling fruit andcollecting donations. I had to balance demanding courses with weekly Amigostraining and fund-raising, Samaritans, a part-time job, a social and family life,and even an occasional DJ gig. Only later would I understand how worthwhile thisinvestment of time and energy had been.
In the village of San Gabriel Ilived with a family of seven and was considered un hijo (son) by my host mother.I worked, laughed, ate and even cried with members of the community. We paintedbuildings, built latrines and stoves, planted trees, and, most important, builtlasting relationships. I felt grateful for my Mexican identity, which helped mebe accepted.
Toward the end of our stay, my two partners and I gatheredabout 60 people to plant trees around the town clinic on one of the summer'shottest afternoons. Everyone - even older women and children - came and workedenthusiastically for hours removing stumps, digging holes and planting trees. Ourhands worked in unison and we accomplished our goal.
At the end of theday, tired and sweaty but smiling, I sat under a tree with Mariana. I knew Iwould probably not sit under the shade of the trees we had just planted, but thatdid not matter. Someone planted this tree for the villagers and me, and I will goon to plant many trees for others.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.