Home / Issue 34 / The Most Well-Educated Toll Collector

The Most Well-Educated Toll Collector

By Eddie Vega

In 7th Grade we had a class called “Career Exploration”

we were encouraged to explore different paths in life

to find what our place might be in the workforce

 

We took vocational tests, aptitude tests, and vocational aptitude tests

Given results, we were told:

 

“You can make excellent:

auto mechanics

grocers

retail sales clerks

infantry soldiers

and if you try real hard, boys and girls,

maybe someday,

you can be managers!”

 

Our field trip was to McDonald’s

they showed us how they make them Big Macs so fast

how they build those boxes to put them in

before we left they made sure

we knew how to punch a time clock

 

When Ms. Grimley asked what our parents did we hesitated

before saying things like:

“he fixes cars”

“she works at K-Mart”

“he drives a truck”

 

What Ms. Grimley didn’t know was that our parents

were actually

engineers

accountants

psychiatrists

teachers

 

They crossed the border with knowledge and experience

but had to leave their degrees and credentials behind

 

My father was a teacher

he exchanged his white collar for a blue one

to get a green card

 

The only time I saw him in a classroom

was when he visited as a parent

listening to teachers talk to him

as if he didn’t know about pedagogy

he stood in silence despite having so much to say

 

My father was the most well-educated toll collector

on the international border

traded desks in rows for cars in columns

his podium turned into a cash register

asked people to pay a dollar instead of attention

 

Our immigrant parents left opportunities for themselves

to find better ones for their families

they took the jobs Americans didn’t want

so their kids could take whatever jobs

they wanted to

 

Our immigrant parents started us on a path to their American dream

My father stopped being a teacher so that I could be one