Maria's mother found a way to give roots to her family. She worked part-time, lived with relatives, and attended adult education classes while the rest of the family continued to harvest crops for a living. Maria's mother became a licensed cosmetologist. She found a job at a beauty shop in Immokalee. With financial help from neighbors, her family finally had a home.
The rest of the family members found jobs, and for the first time in her life, Maria became a student who could actually stay in one school for an entire school year. Her grades began to improve. By the time Maria was a senior, her teachers began to notice that this was no ordinary girl named Maria.
One of her teachers encouraged Maria to apply for the Mensa Scholarship which is awarded at the end of each school year. Mensa is the high IQ society, and the local chapter members evaluate student essays to determine the winners. Some Mensa members see themselves as holy guardians of the English language. Things like spelling, grammar, syntax, and parts of speech are treated with reverence. Maria's essay was written in English which is not her native language. Maria won!
In addition to correct English usage, the Mensa essays are judged on the goals the student has for the future. Maria had a well thought-out plan. Maria’s dream was attending college, majoring in education, with a goal toward a Ph.D. Her dream was to establish a standardized curriculum in all the school districts in the great harvest regions of our country. She knows, first hand, that if migrant children can get high quality, consistent education, they will be able to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty that has been so much a way of life for her family.
My wife and I were invited to act as Masters of Ceremony for the Mensa Scholarship Awards Dinner. Our Mensa chapter believes that the parents of these young geniuses should at least be treated to a good dinner at a respectable restaurant, so we get together and treat the whole family. We were fortunate to be seated at the same table with Maria and her mother.
Maria's mother seemed to tolerate the fuss over her daughter with a benevolent amusement. Maria bubbled. She was irrepressibly charming. She confided to my wife that she was afraid that her makeup had smeared or run before the ceremony had even begun. She explained that they don't have air-conditioning at home, and the A/C in their old pickup hasn't worked since last year. Maria and my wife left to do the things that women do in front of mirrors. Maria's mother, who had seemed so composed earlier, leaned forward with an intense look on her face, "Maria is going to do something with her life. Thank you for helping." she said. A slight quiver of the lower lip was the only hint of the feelings behind her matriarchal dignity.
Several of the people at our table were struck with compassion for what we were witnessing. We were also inspired by such a pure example of the "American Dream." When Maria returned, some of us began to offer sympathy for all her hardships. Maria wanted none of it. "Things aren't so bad now. It has been a long time since we haven't had enough food," she said cheerfully.
In Naples, Florida, we know people who have a bad day if their hot tub springs a leak. Maria thinks things are OK if she has eaten that day.