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‘Échale ganas, mijo’/’Give it your all, son’: PART ONE

What does ‘Transcend. Evolve. Take Flight.” mean to you?

Life’s about a dream

I’ve always considered myself a dreamer — long before the term was used to identify a community of hard-working immigrant youth fighting for a chance to succeed in the land of opportunity. I interpret the term on a much deeper level, and this has influenced the development of my own ideology. I often connect dreams to my past and present. My dreams also set the vision for my future.

For me, the term dreamer goes beyond my current status of being a DACA recipient. I enjoy a good night’s sleep. Especially when I’m induced into my own personal lucid “dreamland.” I’ve taken lessons from my dreams that have shaped me into the person that I am today. I often find myself daydreaming back into the treasure chest of my life’s past memories and experiences.

I daydream of my life in Mexico. I was born in the state of Veracruz — a coastal state whose natives are often known as “Jarochos.” I was brought up by my parents and my immediate family. I visualize my grandfather, Camilo, who taught us the meaning of respect for those around us and encouraged my parents to set strict, yet fair disciplinary standards. I see my grandmother, Guillermina, who always displayed her love for us with constant affection and delicious Mexican dishes.

I had never imagined the events that would drastically alter the course of my life. It all started with a man, my father, who was willing to take a risk for the well-being of his family and for the pursuit of a better life — the so-called American Dream. My father immigrated to southern California in 1990. Months later, my mother joined him across the border. I was six at the time, and my youthful mind felt resentment and confusion towards my parents departure. Why would they leave us? It simply didn’t make sense.

A year passed by living without my parents. My grandparents took care of us and tried to make the best of our existing situation. Having access to Skype or social media would have made communication with my parents a lot easier back then.

In 1992, my older brother and I were reunited with our parents in southern California. The journey was long. I remember jumping from one crowded bus to another. I was excited and nervous to see my parents, and we felt comfortable traveling with one of my favorite uncles. We arrived to a destination which I later learned was Tijuana. Our uncle introduced us to two unknown women and left us in their care. As he said his farewells, our uncle reassured us that these women would take us to our parents. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I resorted to holding my older brother close to me. My brother was also in the same state of panic, and I was glad that we had each other.

I was fortunate enough to sleep through our venture across the border on the back cabin of a semi-truck — dreaming of a reunited life with my parents. But I also felt that they owed us an explanation for their abandonment.

Welcome to northern Mexico

Though life in California took some getting used to, I managed to assimilate quickly. We lived in a neighborhood with a large Latino community. My teachers spoke Spanish, and my friends were all Mexican. I didn’t quite feel the sense of culture shock I had expected to feel. Though I missed my family back home, my parents made up for this by providing unconditional love that only a parent can give to their children. They also gave us a U.S. born little brother.

My parents continued to instill many life lessons in me and my brothers. I would see my father come home late each night with dirty clothes and a darker tone to his skin. He worked in the construction industry as a laborer. He would always dedicate time to make sure we were adhering to our values and morals by making sure that our homework was done and our assigned chores finished. Once completed, we were rewarded with leisure time. I began to understand my father’s lesson of the value of having a strong work ethic. He would constantly remind me that by working hard, whether it be school work or chores, I would reap great results in the future.

My mother instilled in me the values of patience and compassion. She would smother me with affection for my good behavior and positive grades at school. She did struggle with disciplinary actions, and she often delegated these tasks to my father. My mother always had an entrepreneurial mentality. Aside from working as a caretaker for an American family, she sold cosmetics and jewelry on the side. To purchase her inventory, she often participated in tandas to help save her money.

My father worked long days and my mother worked long nights, so I cherished the weekends because those were times when we could be together as a family.

How do you say this in Spanish?

It wasn’t until a few years after moving to the U.S. that I experienced a true sense of culture shock. My parents decided to move north to Minnesota. I was in sixth grade at the time, and I was angry and disappointed for having to leave my friends back in California. After initially sharing an apartment with an extended family member, we eventually settled in the town of Farmington.

Being surrounded by gringos was a very nerve-wracking experience. My English was still limited, and my accent was heavy. In California, I was mostly speaking Spanish, and I happened to live in a neighborhood with mostly Latinos. My classmates constantly reminded me of my accent, and being one of the few Mexican kids in a mostly Caucasian town, I stood out like a sore thumb. Though, I was able to spark their interest in learning Spanish, well…Spanish curse words.

Many classmates treated me with respect and were accepting of my presence, but others felt the need to try to undermine me. I never really felt like I belonged to their inner circle. I felt out of place, not confident, and not like my former self. I became very reserved and quiet.

It took some time, but I finally began to accept Minnesota as my new home. But of course, I constantly struggled to keep myself fixed on seeing life from a new lens. I lived my share of negative experiences, especially around racism. During these moments, I would invoke another one of my father’s life lessons: Never be an aggressor or pick a fight, but don’t allow others to decrease your worth — or the worth of those you care for — and always defend your personal values. I had no option but to stand my ground when challenged.

I was fortunate to form a few close friendships. Needless to say…. they’re all gringos. To this day, they’re still part of my life. They also happen to be as Minnesotan as one can expect. Though my accent was still thick, I learned to feel more confident with my oral skills and my accent. My friends still gave me a hard time, especially around the distinctions between B’s and V’s and J’s and Y’s, but I knew it was all in good fun.

Read part two.

A huge thank you to David Soto for writing this post and sharing his incredibly inspiring story with us. David Soto is the Financial Capability Program Supervisor at Communidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES). David also oversees the Lending Circles programs at CLUES.