I live and work in San Francisco. It is a surreal place to be. The juxtaposition of the absurdity of what haves have and what have-nots don’t is often wild and is not so far away from the movie Upside Down (a Kirsten Dunst movie that I stumbled upon a while back and surprisingly enjoyed).
I constantly struggle with my place here and reconcile what I ostensibly am (a have) by volunteering my time. For the past 3 years, I’ve worked with an all girls HS in the city that provide private education to children of low income families. We spend 4 months out of the year working together on creating a mobile app that will benefit their local community, where I act as a mentor. It has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had and the culmination of this for me was learning that one of the girls in the program is majoring in Computer Science in college.
I understand the crazy amount of opportunities pursuing a career in technology has afforded me, the daughter of refugees from Vietnam. I want the same thing for the daughters of immigrants from Columbia, Mexico and the Philippines.
The program is part of a larger competition open to girls globally. I frequently interact with mentors of other area schools and often (as we are in Silicon Valley) these other schools are abundant with resources. They have computer labs, computer curriculum, laptops. The girls that attend these schools come from well off families where one or both parents are professionals. I am naturally pre-disposed to resent these other folks and their pre-seeded opportunities.
The school I mentor at has no computer program. It has a plucky math teacher who goes out of her way to make sure her students seize any and all opportunities. She has pushed the school and her students to participate in this program every year for the past 4 years. She has given her time to make sure they follow through on their commitments. She has made it fun, so much so, that girls want to participate every year they’re at the school.
The girls come from families who care about their children’s education enough to apply to the school and hope they get in, but often both parents work non-professional jobs. Never have I gotten the sense that the girls felt things out of reach for them, but they have noticed that the winners of the competition every year come from wealth. I’ve been a judge for the competition for the last 2 years. The production level of the recorded app pitches, the coding complexity and output of these wealthier schools illuminates the advantages a computer curriculum and resources provide to their students.
Every year though, we go into the competition to win it. Because winning in the face of adversity isn’t the only underdog story worth telling, playing like you’re going to win is just as good.