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How Did I Get Here?
Author: Raine    Date: 05/08/2014 19:29:52

I have been thinking about how I came to my political stances as of late. My father is someone I would consider a conservative. My mother confuses me socially, economically and politically. I love then both very much. but I am very different from them in many ways. I am a liberal and I consider myself a Democrat.

I grew up in a house that split when I was 17 years old. I was not in touch with world events around this time, nor was I interested in what was going on. All I wanted was a boy to like me and to go to art school after graduation. I had very low self esteem. Looking back, I was far from alone as this was what many girls my age wanted, someone to love them and something to do with the rest of their lives. I had never met someone who was openly gay, and if I did I wasn't aware of it. We had very few people of color in my community. There was one Jewish family. There was one black family and one hispanic family. Often times I heard some spoken of by my elders in hushed terms. The 80s were a time of change for women, we were expected to go to college. just a few years before college for women was not totally embraced.

Today, here I am, just a few months before turning 47 years old and I am wondering how I became what many people call a liberal person, a liberal woman to be more specific.

I don't know the path that took me here. Deep down I always had a feeling that all people should be treated the way I wanted to be treated. This was something my parents taught me. The golden rule, some call it, I suppose.

The problem was, I was taught to treat people better than I felt I was treated. I came from a troubled household. My parents loved each other once upon a time. By the time I was a teen, though, that love had turned into something darker� Their divorce was a benefit to themselves and to me and my siblings in hindsight, but at the time, it was not a great place in my life. School was my lifeline with its warts and all. There were hierarchies and classes of people that I wanted to be a part of. I felt like I didn't fit in at all. I felt like an ugly duckling. Even though I had friends (some who I am still close to), I felt like an outsider. It was still better at school than it was at home during this time of my life.

I look back on things, and I wonder� how did I become a person that is considered a liberal? When I was a teenager, I had no problem with the death penalty. I thought people my age who got pregnant were enigmas. I was friends with poor kids because I was told by my parents that we were poor as well. I accepted the class system that exists in many schools. I didn't feel like I could ever be friends with those more well-off people in my school. I had a very low self-esteem as a young person. It subsided, but it did not go away for a long time.

By the time I was ready to graduate. my parents had separated. There was no money for me to go to college. I was desperate. There was only one thing I wanted and - for that matter - I felt I could be successful at; art. I wanted to go to a school that specialized in the visual arts.

I applied (thanks to a part time job at a nursing home, I could afford the applications) to Parsons School of Design, The Fashion institute of Technology (A SUNY School) and another school. I held out little hope for any of the schools to accept me.

A few weeks after I filled out the applications, I got a call from Parsons, asking me to bring my portfolio and meet with them in NYC. I bought a very nice outfit and my Mom took the train ride with me to NYC. Turns out, Parsons liked me enough to accept me as a member of the freshman class of 1985.

My dream school. They accepted me.

One problem. My parents were in the middle of a divorce. Due to my family's economic situation, I was accustomed to the school lunch program, it was subsidized as my mom had no money to make us lunch. Parsons, however, was a totally different league. It was a hell of a lot more than a school lunch and there was little to no subsidies. You might recall that the President at the time was Ronald Reagan. His budget had recently cut funding to Pell Grants. This is what I was up against. My mom was trying to keep shit together for me and my sisters while she and my dad were fighting over how to end their marriage. Mom could not give me help. Dad could not either, My future was quickly becoming a victim of their divorce.

I knew I could never afford to go to Parsons. I was accepted, but heartbroken. There was no way that I could see that would allow me to attend the school. I could not go. There was no college fund (I have 2 younger sisters; they found no relief either).

During this period of my life, there was no internet. There was no 24/7 cable news. I only knew of things from the local news, reading papers and my public school teachers. It was actually my art teacher that introduced me to the fancy New York times.

Our town was about 2 hours away from NYC but it might as well have been another country. A few weeks before graduation, I got another call that changed my life forever. Unbeknownst to me, a few of my teachers (who by this time had become my confidants with the events surrounding my home life) called to tell me that I was accepted into the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) http://heop.org
What is it?
1) The Higher Education Opportunity Program is a partnership between the State of New York and its independent institutes which provides economically and educationally disadvantaged residents the possibility of a college education.
Who is eligible?
2) To be eligible for HEOP you must be a resident of New York State for one year, possess a high school diploma, educationally disadvantaged, economically disadvantaged and have motivation for college completion.
how do I apply?
3) To apply for admission to a Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), request an application from the institution that you are interested in attending. There are 58 HEOP programs throughout New York State.
I received a full tuition grant for the first year to Parsons. I was going to college. I later learned that I was the first Caucasian woman in NYS to be accepted to this program. I was on my way and a deep and heavy burden on my 17 year old shoulders had been lifted.

The thing is, ultimately, people took the time and interest in me to see that I would get out of this small town I grew up in. They had access to resources I didn't have. They didn't directly benefit from this, they just did this for me, for my benefit. A few weeks later I was moving into my room at a YMCA on 34th street and would be sharing 2 floors with my fellow Parson students. Those first few weeks at school of thought of these teachers, these mentors and could not believe how lucky I was to have had them in my life. 29 years later -- this very month, the gratitude I feel cannot be fully expressed.

During this time, NYC wasn't the lovely city we see today. It looked a lot like these photos (seriously, check those pictures out, amazing stuff). It could be a dangerous place. I rode on subways that looked like this:
Still, I found it amazing and wonderful, and I found a place that I felt I fit in. The people I was going to school with were all colors and religions. Some were even openly gay, some had pink hair, some had strange tattoos. I heard rap music and saw strange dancers on the street. Break Dancing! Times Square was a derelict area filled with Porn movies and peep shows and seedy people. No one ever wanted to go to Port Authority (many still don't�). Remember this was 1985, I came from a small town where the norm was nothing like this. It was amazing. I felt I was among kindred spirits. We were all so very different, and yet we had a strange commonality. It wasn't just being a bunch of freaky artists, it was a combination of cultures and background and a city that embraced it all, good and bad. I've shared some of the not pleasant experiences with you here on this blog. This was all the quilt that made the city so amazing and overwhelming and made me eager to discover all it had to offer. The late (and great) Lou Read captures what the city was like in his song Halloween parade. It somber and melancholy but this was NYC when I lived there:

Everyday in the city I would see posters and fliers for another rally or protest. Up until that year, I had barely heard of AIDS/HIV. The only time I had heard of it was when I went to Long Island to visit family and we saw the NYC news market. In my town, we got our news from the Capitol District region - Albany/Schenectady/Troy. AIDS was barely mentioned. So here in NYC, I had befriended people who were gay. They asked me to come with them to an ActUp die-in to protest the lack of action from the Reagan Administration. My school was near Union Square and often there would be political rallies held there. On any given day it could be for AIDS/HIV awareness, women's equality, protesting the administration actions in Nicaragua, you name it, there was always something happening. I learned about women's equality in ways that no textbook could ever educate me. I attended concerts like the Grateful Dead and even had a date or two with a musician. Fun! I went to galleries and museums. I went to clubs and I was getting an education to boot.


I loved it all. I found a place where I could not only express myself through visuals but I found a place where my voice was not just heard, but listened to and embraced. That place of loneliness and lack of self-esteem started to go away (it would take many years to mend other damages to myself, but that is another story for another day.) I was finding out who I really was. I was swimming in it all.

So I don't know if I was always a liberal. I don't know if I was born this way or if my life path took me here. What I do know is that I tried, and with the help of others, I was able to succeed. What I learned is that being who I am and surrounding myself with people accepting our differences made me a better and more educated person. It is a life lesson that I have never forgotten. It is one that I still try to live by. I had every reason to give up and not go forward. I had every reason to take the traditional route in life. To accept that my lot was made. Because of others, I didn't have to. I was given the choice to move ahead.

It's been said A rising tide raises all boats. I am a liberal person, but how how I got here, I don't know. I know that when we help the least among us, we become better people. I know this because I was once the least among some of us. I was always a strange child, it just took a while for me to find a place where I fit into the world. I have stumbled here and there along the way, but I never looked back. It's a wonderful life and journey.


13 comments (Latest Comment: 05/09/2014 01:44:34 by Raine)
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