Reflections on a life of economic struggles

Adriana Tache | SIPA Class of 2017 | December 14, 2016

From college dropout, to nanny, to Foreign Service Officer – this is the road map to Joshua Trinidad’s accomplishments. He is a 32-year-old International Security policy student from Puerto Rico, who came to the Ivy League school after building an appetite for international relations while working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in France and Colombia.

Son of an Italian-American mother and a Puerto Rican father, Trinidad and his brother were raised by their father and their father’s family. After his parents divorced when he was 2 years old, his family became estranged from his mother.  His father, who worked as a psychologist for the US Army, was sent abroad, leaving young Joshua and his brother in the care of their grandparents in Puerto Rico.

Dysfunctional family situation

“My father comes from a very poor family. My grandfather was an alcoholic and abusive to his family. My father also struggled with alcoholism. He had all the makings to be relatively successful but he was constantly being fired or resigning out of anger,” Trinidad told me in a recent interview. Unfortunately, “it was a dysfunctional family situation,” he recalls. Due to his father’s frequent periods of unemployment, Trinidad  moved from house to house in Illinois, Puerto Rico, and Florida during his childhood. However, he is very appreciative toward his father for raising his children as a single dad without support from their mother.

Eventually, Trinidad’s father sent his sons away to live with their mother, because “he couldn’t deal with 2 teenage boys.” Trinidad’s mother, a registered nurse with a stable career, “was not able to parent and translate this stability onto her children,” turning this part of their lives into “a failed experiment.” Her re-parenting intentions only pushed her children further away. Trinidad remembered running out of toothpaste while living at his mother’s house and asking her to replace it. Her response was that he needed to get a job and buy it for himself.  Trinidad credits his mother for her intention to instill working values in him but recognizes that he was at an age where he was expecting her support. “I understand she was trying to teach me to be independent but you can’t really do that with a 14-year-old who has no transportation. You can’t even get a job at 14.”

Independent at age 14

Shortly after, as Trinidad became more vocal about his mother’s parenting, he and his brother “got kicked out” of their mother’s house, moving several more times until he graduated from high school.

Despite this unstable environment, school came naturally to him. “I’ve always devoted myself to grades as a means to avoid my father’s anger. Growing up I had a lot of trouble because I was gay and because we were moving around so much. So, I didn’t have any social life, any friends…not many distractions.”

Started college, but forced to drop out

After his high performance in high school, Trinidad received a scholarship to study at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL. Unfortunately, the scholarship did not cover cost of living. Because his father committed to pay his son’s rent, Trinidad believed he only had to worry about the cost of food and small purchases. His father’s promise never materialized, so Trinidad was forced to drop out of college because he could not support himself.

He ended up working as a housekeeper, then as an overnight dairy stocker at Walmart, and then as a customer service agent for a call center. As if the situation was not hard enough, his roommate announced she was planning to move out from the apartment Trinidad was already struggling to pay rent for. “I was considering to live out of my van because I couldn’t afford the rent for the apartment by myself.” The same roommate offered him the option to come to NY with her in 2004, where he became a nanny for her grandson. “I worked as a nanny 30 hours a week in exchange for rent in an unfurnished room. I had to find another job because I did not have money for food,” he recalls of his first years in the city that was going to bring him closer to SIPA.

A passion for languages

In 2006, with a full-time job at a software company, Trinidad began college again, studying languages part-time at CUNY Hunter. Two years later, he became a full-time student. Because of regulations that prevented him from claiming independent status, Trinidad was denied financial aid. Four years and $60,000 in student loans later, he graduated with a degree in Spanish, French, and Japanese. With his new abilities, Trinidad became an ESL Instructor in New York, Paris, and Colombia. Unfortunately, this work was not sufficient to support living in cities and he was forced to seek out public assistance several times.

No bitter feelings about personal struggles

Now, close to getting his degree from SIPA, he is on his way to joining the Foreign Service. As recipient of the Rangel fellowship and other financial aid, his financial situation is stable, at last. After all the struggles he faced, Trinidad is happy that he and his brother “survived a tumultuous upbringing” and that he didn’t allow any of those struggles to turn him into “a bitter or a damaged person.”