by Elsa Mendoza, intern in the office of Senator Sylvia Garcia
I thought I understood the definition of systematic oppression well enough to know that I was being affected by it due to my gender or race. Yet, I did not realize the extent of its involvement in my life. I did not realize that it had a hand in making my life exactly what it has been the entire time. This is not to say that I do not take responsibility for the choices I have made, but at least now I realize that I was given very specific choices to choose from.
This realization hit me as I watched news coverage of a distant family member of mine who had just been shot to death in a robbery. The headlines described him as a teenage boy who had been shot dead for a few dollars by another teenager, while trying to protect his mother. A friend of this family member described the unfortunate incident as a way of life; something that just happens in our neighborhoods in Houston. His mother described it as the worst thing a parent could ever go through. However, I view it as a consequence of an oppressive system that probably forced the ripple of unfortunate events that occurred that day.
Maybe it was the fact that I had just finished analyzing SB 11, a bill that is supposed to be a new beginning for our foster care system. The discussion surrounding SB 11 shows that many people agree that children in foster care need more protection. This bill is an attempt to design a system that will provide these kids community-based resources to increase their likelihood of lifelong stability and success. Analyzing this bill led me to think about how much legislation is also responsible for what happened that day my family member was shot.
As I watched the surveillance video showing these young boys robbing places that day I wondered what led them to make that choice. Was it a failing education system with a restricted curriculum that did not allow them to explore their talents? Was it involvement with a juvenile correctional system that hindered their access to a decent paying job? Was it exposure to a family system that forced them to have constant interaction with violence, drugs, or crime? Was it exposure to a broken foster care system that did not make them feel safe or stable that led them to run away to whatever other life they could create?
As I watched a family member cry about her loss, I wondered if anyone was crying for the teenager who killed the boy. I then thought about all the kids that go through these broken systems that our state legislation imposes on our lives – the kids that end up physically, mentally and spiritually drained, or even dead, because of these systems. I wondered, who cries for them?
Do the teachers that oppress some children’s minds by repeatedly telling them they will be nothing in life, do they cry for them? Do the judges that punish these kids with unreasonable sentences in facilities that give them little emotional or mental help, do they cry for them? Do the family members that refuse to break old habits and give up on their ability to care for the kids’ well-being, do they cry for them? Do the caseworkers that lack the time and resources to invest enough interest in making sure kids are in a stable environment, do they cry for them? Do the legislators who create, change and support laws that keep these kids from being able to know what it feels like to be empowered, do they cry for them?
If these are the only individuals a kid is exposed to for his or her entire life, and if these individuals do not cry for them and show them that they care, how will these kids ever learn to cry for others? How are we going to expect someone who has never been valued and cared about to do the same for another human being?
I do not know what made that teen pull the trigger. I do not know what he was thinking about as he took a life. All I know is that as I read SB 11, I could only hope that this was the right step at protecting more children. All I could do is hope that we have found a way to dissolve one of the many oppressive systems in our state that is likely producing more kids that do not value life.