Proyecto Visión 21

An unacceptable waste of our human potential

Francisco Miraval

At a recent community meeting I met Marcela (not her real name). She asked me for help and advice, explaining that, being a single mother in charge of two teenagers, baking and selling cakes 12 to 14 hours a day was no longer enough for her to generate the income needed to feed her family.

I spoke with Marcela for several minutes, exploring some income-generating options and activities that would fit her complicated schedule and address her needs. During the conversation, I asked her what she did before coming to the United States.

“I have a bachelor in business administration with a specialization in microbusinesses,” she told me, indicating she had study at a prestigious Latin American university.

Then, at a different meeting, I met Luis (not his real name). He told me he was “desperate” looking for a new job. It seems that after working for several years at a car repair shop, the owner of the shop decided to sell business, thus leaving Luis unemployed.

During the conversation it was clear Luis knew much more than what you can usually expect from an expert in car mechanics. He also spoke with easy about science and about photography. Therefore, I asked him what he had studied and where.

“I have a bachelor in computer sciences and I have been involved in artistic photography for many years”, he told me, naming another well-known university in Latin America.

Then, at a recent meeting with immigrants, I was invited to talk about the emotional and psychological challenges immigrants face when they arrive in their new country. Ana (not her real name), who works cleaning homes, was very quiet during the presentation. Then, she asked me if she could say a few words. Obviously, I said yes.

Ana immediately began to explain with clarity some concepts related to deep psychology. I was intrigued and so I asked her where she had acquired that knowledge.

“I studied psychology and I taught psychology for many years”, she explained, naming yet another respected Latin American university.

I know very well that what you study in one particular socio-cultural context may not be easily applicable in another context. And I know that the urgencies chasing immigrants force us to focus on surviving the present, not on building a future. Yet, it is unacceptable to waste our true human potential.

I have nothing against Marcela for not being a business administrator, or against Luis for not installing computer systems, or against Ana for not teaching psychology. In fact, I deeply sympathize with them. But I wonder if this time of constant change and uncertainty is also the time for us to consciously achieve our true potential.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with selling cakes, repairing cars, or cleaning homes. Those are noble and necessary occupations. Yet, there is nothing wrong either with having our own experts in so many different areas where now our only option is to talk with somebody who doesn’t know nor understand us.

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