A Pair of Hard-Working Parents by Henry Perez

     I know that I want to be successful and a productive member of society. Although race may play a huge role in American society, it doesn’t change the way I look at my peers or anyone I encounter.

I know that I’ve worked hard for the things I have, and that my work ethic comes from my strong Mexican roots and a pair of hard-working parents that put their life on the line to make sure they raised their boys in a way they never knew.

As a minority business owner, I know how important it is to be welcoming of people from all walks of life. No matter the racial identity, I think it is important that people remember to look at what we have in common before we point out our differences. The racial situation in America is one that is still volatile and built on separation, from wealth and entertainment to the neighborhoods we live in. I think that these social constructs such as race distract from the real issues we have such as distribution of wealth and power that have been part of American since inception.

I’ve learned that although my cultural identity is built on my Mexican heritage, I’d also have to say that I identify with hip-hop culture as well. I grew up speaking Spanish in my household because it was all I had ever been taught, but can remember picking up English quickly thanks to hip-hop music. I became a fan of lyricists such as Outkast, Jay-Z, 2Pac, Ice Cube and more, and identify strongly with not only the music but the communities that hip-hop was born out of- which to me represent a unification between all minorities and a positive resistance against the system of oppression that is characteristic of American enterprise and government. From speaking with my family, I’ve learned that I was always driven to music, even before I could speak, and that they can see how much it shaped me positively growing up.

My community identity is tied to my hometown, Seaside, which is in the Monterey Bay. I run a business there, a clothing store and skate shop, which is branded “Ocean Grown,” in homage to Seaside. I identify strongly with having been raised near the ocean, as well as having been raised in one of the most racially diverse and concentrated areas in the state.

The Monterey Bay has been a cash crop of California for decades, thanks to the rich soil of the neighboring Salinas Valley and because of this is still home to a high concentration of Latino immigrants working in the fields as well as many Pacific Islander, Korean, Japanese, Jamaican, Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern families working hard throughout the county. Moreover, the military base in Fort Ord was decommissioned in 1993, and left a lot of military families displaced after the area had become a hub for multi-racial military families.

After speaking with my family, I got to fill in some of the blanks that I had regarding my roots.  I learned that my father had first came to America in the 1980s, alone, to escape a Mexican economy that had left people like him in a dire position. From my research, I learned that the Mexican economic policies at the time were very unstable, with periods of success being followed by crisis in 1976 and 1982. Although my father’s family was from a poor mountainside, the land they lived on was undoubtedly owned by someone who would have felt the impact of these economic times, and potentially could made life harder for my father’s family. My father told me that he ran away because he felt hopeless, and like he was already dead, which led him to the streets of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacán in search of something new. Here he worked many odd jobs and began learning the trade that would change his life, automotive repair. My parents first met after my father started working in a saw mill owned by my mother’s father.

Life in Mexico was only getting harder, and since my father couldn’t even speak Spanish as well as most people (coming from a dialect), he decided to immigrate in 1982 at a time when the journey was a lot tougher.

My father first came to Monterey, CA in search of opportunity, and struggled working in the fields and menial jobs such as dish washing to make ends meet at a time when Latinos were being treated a lot worse in the workplace. My father told me stories of being spit on at work and of white men assaulting groups of Latinos at bars simply because of their ethnic background. Eventually my father got a job as a mechanic for Dole after proving himself, which would lead him to return to Mexico and ask for my mother’s hand in marriage.

From my own research as well as help from Ancestry, I’ve been able to get a better idea of where I come from. My last name on my mother’s side pertains to a village in the Burgos province of Spain, and my father’s last name pertains to a village in the Logroño province of Spain. In terms of America, the first note of my father’s last name is in 1880 in Texas, and by 1920 many families had spread throughout the United States—none of whom were known by my father. My father’s brother and sisters eventually followed him to the U.Sl, and they received no help from any American family in the process of integrating into American society and raising their families.

My mother’s family name history in America is less prevalent in the U.S., with only a few families popping up in 1920 in Michigan according to Ancestry.

To me this suggests that my father’s ancestors may have been slaves of the people who gave them their last name, hailing from Northern Spain, and of some type of power as the last name is more common in American and Spanish history. My father’s family was more native Tarascan than Spanish, and the way he describes the strict form of Catholicism that he grew up around in the rural mountainside makes me draw comparisons the missions of California and the way the Native Americans were treated. I hope to research this more, and see what else I can learn about these ties.

A lot of the stories I hear from both my parent’s family history need to be verified and sadly there aren’t a lot of surviving members to do so. Not much more is known of my family history beyond my grandparent’s generation, as only select stories and traditions remain. Not much is known of Spanish ancestors, or much farther back than 1930 from the relatives I contacted. I recently lost my grandfather on my father’s side, which was one of the surviving ties to my ancestors. Ultimately I was most surprised by how little knowledge there is of my families ancestral heritage. I have to change this, and to do what I can to dig deeper into our roots. I also find it interesting that the villages that bear my parents last names are only 2 ours apart in Northern Spain, which is something I aim to dig deeper into.

In terms of my personal interests, I’d have to say that I am more motivated by my parents’ ambition and sacrifice than my family history. My father was born into poverty and has been able to begin building a legacy for my brothers and I to take over and pass down, and I hope to lead my family in discovering our roots and where we come from. Ultimately, I think this will help me understand who I am, but I don’t think my racial or cultural identity alone defines who I am.

The person I am is defined by the actions I take and the way I treat the people I encounter throughout my life. I wouldn’t let a social construct hold me back from connecting with people. In this way, I think all of us in the class are connected, as we are members of humanity before anything else, and we have to remember to look beyond the many systems of segregation and oppression that exist and remember we have more in common than we might think when it comes to what we want for ourselves and our families. This class has helped me with my journey, and I aim to discover some more about the last names that my family has carried for so long, to get a clearer understanding of where I come from, and where I want to go.

In terms of covering diverse communities, my experience has shaped me into a very determined and diligent reporter that can access diverse communities and tell the stories that need to be told. The news media can learn to open their mind to covering the intricacies of low-income communities as much as they cover the intricacies of Hollywood or what these athletes are making. I think it is obvious that the powers of be still have a gridlock on the industry, but this digital revolution has allowed for the middleman, in this case news organizations, to be cut out and created a direct stream to public opinion through social media and other digital mediums. If new organizations don’t want to pay reporters it’s time for us to take it into our own hands, and if the ethnic press bands together and other industries follow suit, I think we have a chance to improve the lives of millions. My experience has taught me that wishful thinking can become reality, and I hope to pass that on.

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