by John Flórez
“You can become president!”
That’s what my grade school teachers told me. If I studied and worked hard, they said, I could become president.
So I did what they told me. But it turns out what they promised me wasn’t the truth, although I’m pretty certain they didn’t know it at the time.
Here we are, months before the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential primaries and well over a year away from the general election itself and it’s clear to me that without millions of dollars stuffed in my pockets, I won’t be able to get out of the campaign starting blocks.
The latest campaign finance reports show that among Republican contenders Mitt Romney has already raised $34.5 million. Near behind him are Rudy Giuliani, $29.6 million, and John McCain, $23.5 million.
Barack Obama has rung up nearly $57 million on the Democratic cash register, trailed by Hillary Clinton, $31.5 million, and John Edwards, $21.6.
Already poor John admits having to spend $400 or more for a haircut to look presentable to unpretentious Democratic primary voters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. No telling what it’ll cost him to primp up for the sophisticated electorate in California and New York. Or even Texas.
I wonder what the grade school teachers of today are telling Mexican kids like me the costs about becoming president? If they’re using Bill Richardson as a model, his ante to date is $13.1 million.
Dang those grade school teachers of mine. There I was, a poor Mexican kid with missing teeth, striped bib overalls and worn-out shoes being told the big lie by my Riverside Elementary teacher.
Later, my Jefferson Elementary teachers even read to me from books that anyone could become president.
I remember seeing pictures on the classroom wall of a white guy with wavy, silver hair. They said he was the first president of the United States. I later found out he wore a powdered wig. When you are a kid, history can be confusing.
My teachers taught me the pledge of allegiance to our flag and made me feel proud to be a United States citizen. I was especially honored to pull the ropes that raised the fl ag on the pole in front of the school in the morning. They talked about “our” forefathers and encouraged me to read books about U.S. history.
I gazed at the forefathers’ pictures, looking for any brown faces like mine. I learned not to take things too literally.
My teachers taught me about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Though my immigrant parents taught me to be proud of my Mexican heritage, they helped bolster my pride in being an “American,” too.
My public schools did something else that is often overlooked. They taught me how to live, learn, work and play with others, and to discover the common values that bind us.
As I look at today’s roster of formidable presidential candidates — a female, a black and a Hispanic among them — now I can accept what my teachers told me. While we may never realize all the dreams our teachers had for each one of us, we won’t forget the gift they gave us — believing that we can make a difference and we are part of something larger than ourselves.
(John Flórez writes a regular column for the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City. He has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations and served with more than 45 state, lo- cal and volunteer groups. E-mail: jdfl firstname.lastname@example.org). © 2007.