To be honest, Donald, I never gave much thought to my heritage. I take my exotic ethnicity for granted, as all flavors of Hispanic people do, those born here in the USA and those from across the borders. How can we not? The Latin culture is a fiery and passionate sort of people with a deep and rich past. While I don’t hail for Mexico, my roots are steeped in the Southwest. I check the Hispanic box on self-declaration forms. I’m of the blended variety-Spanish, Native American, Moorish, with a peppering of this and that.
Clearly when you vocalized your feelings regarding the Mexican Immigrants you didn’t stop to consider that a large percentage of the Hispanic population are like me, blended. Your callous words hurt all of us. We all come from somewhere, have forefathers and mothers, ancestors who crossed borders, endured hardships, and sacrificed homes and family connections to start a life here in these United States.
You stomped, maliciously and ignorantly, on our stories.
My parents were born into working-class families. At an early age, my dad helped provide for his family. As the oldest of three, it was his job to contribute when his father could not. By the time Dad was ten, he had paper routes and an assorted number of part-time jobs. He logged his share of time in the fields of Salinas, long before Cesar Chavez took a stand for higher wages and equal rights. During his lifetime, Dad typically held two or more jobs simultaneously.
Dad and Mom married after their high school graduation. He moved his new bride to Denver and trained under Papa Dumas, the Bobby Flay of his day. The pay was bad, and there were no benefits, in fact, I was born at Denver General on the State’s dime. He worked long hours but becoming a chef fulfilled one of his dreams, so he labored happily.
I was almost four when Mom and Dad cut the chord with tradition and moved West. The three of us settled in a two-bedroom apartment off Sunset Blvd. The palm tree lined street was home to similar two-story apartment buildings, bungalows, and a large Craftsman’s style olive-colored house owned by Jackie and Terry McMillian. Jackie was a former model and Terry, an engineer. He and Jackie hosted lavish parties, served gin martinis, and dainty appetizers. On their property were several bungalows, which they rented to aspiring starlets. Pam and Tim, the McMillians children, and I were thick as thieves. We spent all of our free time spying on the renters and inventing trouble worthy of house arrest.
Dad worked long hours at a steakhouse on the strip while Mom became close friends with Jackie, who would forever alter the trajectory of Mom’s life, and in doing so, mine. Before Jackie, Mom knew the Hispanic way–stay under the radar, work hard, live inside the family circle, obey the unwritten rules of La Familia—and nothing else. If not for this serendipitous encounter, Mom might have ended up a stay at home mom with a limited view of the opportunities available to women. And dad may have followed in his father’s footsteps. But they didn’t. In those early days under the glimmer of the Hollywood sign they seized the moment. Determined to have a home of their own and sophisticated parties, they saved Dad’s earnings–in a bank and not under a mattress. They eventually purchased a house in a good school district far from the glitzy lights of Sunset Blvd. We would stay close to the McMillians over the years.
Once we moved to the burbs, Mom decided to work. Dad opened a restaurant, but the stress of being self-employed eventually took its toll; the family-owned business closed, and dad went back to being an employee. Meanwhile, Mom went to school and started climbing the corporate ladder. True to their dream, they put a pool in the backyard, hosted parties reminiscent of those Jackie and Terry held, bar the Gin Martinis, with Creedence Clearwater LPs circling the Magnavox’s turntable. The dining room table was never without food nor it’s chairs empty. My parents flourished.
They regularly indulged my sister—she came along before we moved into the track home—and I to Hollywood movie premieres, stage plays, concerts, and made sure we had library cards. Dad recited Shakespeare, Edgar Allen’s poetry and read from Summerset Maude to Sis and me.
While the school system provided the basics, Mom and Dad bridged the gap in our education. The exposed us to the arts; were fierce when it came to manners and behavior, work ethic, morals and principles, stamina and fortitude, and the most important, never give up. The Moguez Finishing School isn’t accredited, but maybe it should have been.
I finished college and joined the workforce with no understanding of glass ceilings or ethnic discrimination. This would come after a move to London. I had married a Brit and landed a job with Barings Bank. My encounter with prejudice was with the CFO, a native South African. He hadn’t a clue about my ethnicity, but he had an issue with women—especially pregnant women, which I was—in the workplace and made a point to tell me about it. His words rattled me. Knowing there were no witnesses to his comments, his C-level position compared to my manager level status, I swallowed my anger. Armed with the soft skills mom and dad gave me I maintained my decorum and professionalism but I wanted to unleash my Latina temper and leave him doubled over crying wolf.
While uncomfortable crashing into someone else’s narrow view of the world and my right to a place in it, the experience opened my eyes. It reminded me how hard my Hispanic parents worked so that I could stand proud half the world away from my childhood home listening to a racist from the other half of the world telling me pregnant women at work was offensive. Who was the criminal in this case?
My parents told me repeatedly this life was mine to define. So I have. I’ve been a Vice President a few times, a Director several times, and there were a few other jobs I’ve had, some I loved, and others no so much. I’ve even written a few books. I continue to live life as if there are no borders I cannot cross because of my parents, their parents, and their parent’s parents, determination.
A few years back Cancer took hold of my dad. He battled the illness with all the dignity the disease allowed. He made me promise to work hard, to give my passion a voice, and to live the dream he had gladly given up for my sister and me. He also made me swear to take care of his babies–his three grandchildren–and to live big. When he passed, he left us a little lost. But even now we never forget what he did or sacrificed to afford us the life we live today. He crossed personal borders as did his forefathers and mothers, to start life anew in these United States.
Be mindful with your words, Mr. Trump. This nation is built on the sacrifices of people who crossed borders, continents, and oceans, to get to this country, which still stands and represents freedom.
Not so respectfully,
Latina Strong and Proud