Family — The Influence and Example of My Parents

As long as I can remember, my father worked every day between his full-time union job and other side jobs, such as, helping Latino families with their taxes, immigration papers, and translations. My father was so frustrated by the prejudice that Latinos (and other communities of color) were facing at the time, that he really wanted to be a lawyer. But, he didn’t—he sacrificed his dream to make sure that my mother, his children, and my Abuelitas had what we needed.

Throughout childhood, I often challenged my mother and father. My mother, not wanting to stir things up with five other kids at home, would send my father and I to the garage to talk. Well it wasn’t talking—it was a debate. We each wanted to have the last word. Looking back, I’m amazed my father let me challenge him—but only in private (I think my father knew way back then that I was destined to be a lawyer).

When I asked my father why he worked so much—he’d say: “Por que, el hombre nacio para trabajar” or “Because a man was born to work.” To that, I’d say, “What about the women—we work too!” And, he would smile, and say, “Si Lupita, vamonos, a la oficina” or “Yes, now let’s go to the office.”

So at 10 years old, I became my father’s personal secretary on the weekends. I’ve come to realize that from that time forward, my father was preparing me for the working world of men. He knew that, as a Latina, I would face more obstacles than he had, and he faced a lot, especially because of his heavy accent. He knew that the civil rights movement had created opportunity, but that it also left deep and painful scars. He knew that I would be among those who would benefit from Affirmative Action, because I was a very good student, but he also knew that I would have to fight the stigma, stereotypes and resentment.

With his sayings and more importantly, with his actions, my father was teaching me the pathway to success: teaching me to make hard choices, like sacrificing family and fun time for long hours at the office, conquering insecurities, and going beyond my comfort zone. Mi papa always insisted that I get straight A’s. He pushed me—because he knew, I needed to be not just stronger, but smarter in the working world of men.

My bi-cultural journey wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my mother (mi mama). My mother was a math whiz who made the financial decisions for our family. She too was hard working and conscientious, especially with the family finances. After we moved to the US, she had the foresight to purchase a 3-story home in a white neighborhood, because she knew the first rule of real estate was: location. My father didn’t want us squeezed into a small apartment and he knew there would be discrimination (and he was right, our garage was burned down twice), but my mother made the decision. The two rents collected from the property would go on to pay for the mortgage and that 3-flat rental ended up paying for itself and part of our education for six kids. This was only one of the important financial decisions my mother made.

Reflecting on this, my mother taught me the value of long-term versus short-term goals. She always encouraged me to work, save, invest in my education, and become financially savvy, because she wanted me to have choices and be independent, free to choose my future, rather than be a slave to it.