As in every school, some classes have great chemistry where there’s the right blend of intelligences and personalities and cooperation if not participation. One semester my fourth hour was like that.
Grading their responses to the documentary Waiting for Superman I read over my students’ childhood dreams. One wanted to be a super hero, another a doctor, and one still hopes to be a military hero. “I wanted to be an architect. I never thought I’d be a criminal,” wrote another. Not surprisingly another dreamed of playing professional ball. But the most ironic is the one who says he wanted to be a policeman.
These responses on my mind I interrupted my lesson in contractions with Mr. Cisneros by asking him, “So what did you want to be when you grew up?” He was pretty open with me and was becoming my source of information on gang culture, having grown up in the thick of it all.
He didn’t hold back now, “Well I spent time around older men.” I asked him what old meant to him and he told me 40’s. He went on, “And I was young, you know. They had tattoos,” my eyes flick to his arms in the pause, “and guns.” He finishes by making a gun with his right hand. “I thought they were cool. I was young and didn’t know any different.”
“So you always wanted to be a gangster?” I clarify. My mind’s eye recalls the pictures the Training Academy showed of entire families–including toddlers and young children–posing with guns, sporting gang paraphernalia, and flashing gang signs. How does one undo that? I think back too of all the time I spent with older people, retirees in their 60’s and 70’s or older, who had been quite successful in their life. How different my dreams were on account of them.
“But it sucks,” he interrupts my reminisce, and then continues at my prompting, “I didn’t know how much they suffered.” But his eyes still light up at the memory of these gangsters and their stories. I imagine, based on all he’s shared, that he will one day be a little boy’s hero. How will he feel then?