On a summer day of 1988, with only a plastic bag full of homemade wheat bread and a desire for a better life, my father and his friend crossed an old wire fence as if they were going on a picnic. Two minutes later, they were stepping on American soil. His journey just started.
My dad followed his father to the U.S. My grandfather first came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1960s to work as a farmworker under the “Bracero Program,” an agricultural labor agreement between the U.S and Mexican governments created in 1942 that allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the U.S. and work temporarily.
My grandfather once told me it was an important opportunity in his life. But it also marked him with unforgettable memories: labor exploitation, racism, and the lack of hygienic conditions.
But despite my grandfather’s experience, my father decided to give it a try. He started working in labor jobs, as a gardener, construction worker and chef. Eventually, he settled into work like my grandfather, picking and packing up apples, cherries, peaches, and pruning trees.
My father still remembers how he almost got deported when he was in the process of becoming a U.S. permanent resident; the first time happened when he tried to defend a friend, who got in a fight, and the second one when he accidentally forgot to pay for a pair of glasses at Walmart.
He felt fear for the first time in his entire life, after spending one night in jail and then being released.
“I still remember one of the cops pointed his gun at me and said ‘We will let you go, but if you are lying we are going to find. Now run as fast as you can or we are going to shoot you,’ ” my dad said.
In pursuit of the “American dream,” my dad took temporary jobs from California to Washington.
We used to sleep in his 1970 Dodge van during the summer and winter seasons, and we shared it with some of my dad’s siblings. I was eight months old.
If you ask me how we all fit in it and survived winters and summers, I wouldn’t be able to answer. My father always pushed hard to achieve the “American dream” and to give us a better life, but in 1992, my mother gave up, and took us back to Mexico.
My dad traveled back and forth across the border. He always worked hard to give us the best he could. I still remember how he would surprise us on Christmas Day with gifts and candy. We were a happy and a close family. until that afternoon of May 2007 when my youngest brother died after drowned in the water. He was two-years-old and it is the most painful thing that has ever happened in our lives, especially for my father. He blames himself because he wasn’t there the day my brother passed.
Like everybody else, my father has had ups and downs in life, but he will never give up as he is the most hardworking person I have ever known. He will never complain about his work, and he will rarely miss a day.
He became a U.S. citizen in 2016 after trying it for so many years.
“I know this is just a paper, but for me, this is a small part of the ‘American Dream,’” my father said. “ Not for money or material things that you can buy if you work hard in this country, but because it allowed me to bring my family together, a few years late, but we almost got to be all together.”
Almost but not quite. My youngest sister remains back in Mexico waiting for her green card approval, which can take more than 10 years. Until that day my father’s dream will not be fulfilled.