What poverty looks like to me

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I'm taking a poverty class this quarter and one of my assignments this week was to draw a picture of what poverty looked like to me. I am no artist, but I could 'see' it in my minds eye very clearly. Fortunately, I only had to describe what I'd drawn for the class. This is what I wrote there:

My page has two sides.

On one side is what I think the extreme end of poverty looks like, the one I have been conditioned to think of. This page is in black and white. There is a child from a scene from La Chureca in Nicaragua, a garbage dump where some people have lived their entire lives, sorting through other people’s trash to eek out a subsistence living.

On this side is Dorothea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother photograph of the mother with her children: Without a home, without food, without water. I think of the homeless people I see in doorways and at parks, the ones with mental illness or addictions that society likes to think they chose to do nothing about. I see visions of soup kitchen lines from the depression. I see the line of people outside the Salvation Army shelter in Salt Lake City, the line I can see from the nice restaurants at the Gateway.

On the other side of the page I see what I see when my students walk in the door: the silent poor. This side is colorful. I see the students who have houses and running water (sometimes) and enough food (right after the food stamps come) but who are otherwise going without food, going without toilet paper, going without shoes. I see my kids who come in here looking happy and fine with duct tape holding the soles of their shoes on. I see someone who comes in here an hour early in the morning to linger over the breakfast we serve because it’s their only meal of the day. I see the sixteen year old that I took to McDonalds after class one day (I know!) and then to the skate park, where he lived. I see the young men who come to GED and stay longer because we let them make peanut butter sandwiches.

For me -my vision of poverty has two faces: the one we all have been conditioned to think of when we think of poverty: and the one we mostly pretend not to see at all.


  1. A very good post, that I think is true. People tend to not like to see the other side of poverty... or, well, ANY side of poverty. Tragically, it is really easy for people who have money to both not see people like your students or convince themselves that they're poor because they deserve to be, or because they're lazy, which just isn't true. I'd like to see one of them explain that reasoning to the face of a 9th grader with no father trying to raise his younger siblings.

  2. I stumbled upon your blog while searching for songs about economic turmoil and job loss to post on my blog. I am glad that I stopped to look around because this is beautifully written and unfortunately true. Too many people are willing to overlook the poverty around them or make excuses for it rather than trying to help those in need.


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