When my father first came to this country from El Salvador almost 40 years ago, he arrived with ten American dollars in his pocket and nothing else.
From working on the coffee plantation where he grew up to living in San Jose, California, his journey was a difficult one, though not unique by most standards. This was also true for his reason for fleeing El Salvador. He knew he could make his life better if he only had the opportunity. The United States seemed like the best place to pursue that opportunity.
As a young naïve person who was given every opportunity by my parents, I didn’t understand what exactly what my dad’s immigration journey really signified until years later as an adult working in an immigration and citizenship program and listening to immigration stories similar to my father’s. And it wasn’t until the later years of my father’s life that I began to understand how much the hardship of his younger years in El Salvador, contributed to who he had become in the United States and his drive to succeed financially.
I was familiar with the story of how my dad as a young man, held down three different jobs to put himself through college to become an accountant so it didn’t jive with me why someone who naturally tried to be frugal, especially given his particular education, showed such extravagant tastes sometimes. My dad was an absolute shoe hound. At the time of his death, he had dozens of brand-new shoes in the softest, supplest Italian leather that money could buy. Many of them were still in the boxes, never worn.
You see, my dad came from a very modest background where he was only able to have one pair of shoes and they had to last him for at least a few years at a time. As a growing boy, this particular situation would contribute to lifelong podiatric issues with his feet; including having to undergo several painful surgeries to correct deformations in his feet as a result of being crammed into shoes that were just too small. Once my dad had the opportunity to buy shoes, he never thought twice about splurging on shoes. As my kids would say, “YOLO!” – You only live once so might as well buy the best shoes you can.
So, as my dad’s child, when I hear in the news that immigrants are supposedly overwhelming our borders to steal our jobs, to commit crimes and generally, to bring the community down, I struggle to understand this since my dad held down three jobs to eventually develop his own successful career, help all of his kids develop their own careers and contribute to our community so much so that he received recognition awards for his years of career service.