Those Aztec Warriors were before my time. The Pancho Villas and Emiliano Zapatas también. Pa que digo que no si sí, as a much more contemporary heroine of my time would say, La India Maria. And that’s not to discount any of their contributions and sacrifices to and for my culture at all. Pero tampoco me voy hacer el que se las sabe toditas en cuanto a sus historias. I’ll be the first to admit there are plenty more things about their time and history that I could stand to learn.
That I probably should learn.
But the heroes and heroines of my time were otros. Most of them barely spoke a word of English. Almost all of them had studied no farther than the second grade. Some of them couldn’t read. A lot more of them were terrible at math like me. Y aún así they were all living the American dream. The one with the long hours and often illegal pay. Not because they didn’t have papers, although a good number of them didn’t, but because they were never paid minimum wage. They worked for less than it so why bother paying them any more than that? They were a humble people. Never too concerned about the latest trend or the fanciest pair of shoes they could buy their kids. They cared more about making sure their hard work would speak for them, volumes past what little broken English they could muster.
As if a scrubbed down toilet, a meticulously built fence, or an extra well manicured lawn, would tell the world how good and honest a people they actually were. The irony is that a lot of times it did. It was a badge of honor for people to recognize how good of a job they were doing even if they still would not pay them el mínimo.
“Your work is your reputation. ¿Si no te enseñas a trabajar qué vas hacer? You have to learn how to work hard, how to do as much as possible, para cuando se ofrezca…uno nunca sabe,” those we’re their constant reminders. It didn’t matter if it was my own parents, my uncles, my grandparents, the neighbors, or even the janitors at school, they all always made the same recommendations for getting ahead.
It was a different generation. A braver one. Of warriors luchistas, all be it in Chick-fil-A uniforms, janitor suits, botas de construcción, hard hats, and aprons. They believed in something. Had risked life and limb to achieve it. And were never above putting their pride aside for the benefit of a bigger picture. Their stories amazed me. Their sacrifices left me speechless. Their determination. Wow! Their determination. I wanted to be like them. To be that confident. To be that sure that things were always going to be okay. To trust in God as much as they did. No se preocupen, Dios siempre nos ayuda. And to never let anything get me down.
I’m sure they did. In fact, I know it. But no matter how bad things got, nothing ever broke them.
When our kids grow up will they see us the same way? Will they think back to the toughest parts of their childhoods and admire the way we persevered against all odds? Will they learn the same lessons we once did? Will they value hard work and honesty much more than money and the material? Even despite our age of everything made easy, gizmos and gadgets? It’s something worth aspiring to. I think.