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Why I Give Back to my Community

My mother and father are immigrants from Mexico. My mother was born in Michoacan, but she was raised in el Distrito Federal (Mexico City). My father is from Jalisco; a small town called Zapotitan de Hidalgo. My parents didn't meet in Mexico actually. They came separately to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants, where they would eventually meet in East Los Angeles in the 1970's.

 

As undocumented immigrants, my parents did what they could to find jobs. They settled into a tiny studio apartment on Alvarado Street in Echo Park, that had a built-in bed in the wall. I wouldn't say that they had a perfect marriage, but they made things work. I can honestly say that my parents loved their children very much, which is why they worked so hard. They wanted to make certain that their kids had a better life than they had...and for that, I am grateful. 

I am the oldest of three, with two younger brothers. Growing up, I remember my parents telling us how important it was to learn to speak English and go to school. Back then, I didn't want to be bothered with those ideas...I just wanted to play outside. 

My dad was a hard worker. I say "was" (past tense) because he's retired now. He worked in several industries: upholstery, factory work, ice cream vendor, janitor, and then electrical operator. He was very handy and he stood out as a leader among his peers.  My mother was a homemaker, which is a hard job all on its own. She also tapped into her natural talents and became a seamstress, working out of the house and getting clients by word of mouth. I often found my mother writing short stories and poetry in her limited free time. She draws and she paints - a true artist! Her talent for the arts and for making things is truly uncanny. 

I like to think that I have qualities from both of my parents and in many ways, I am the woman that I am because of them. That's why it's important for me to keep their legacy going. My parents taught me about the importance of hard work, tenacity, and perseverance. They taught me about compassion, dedication, and integrity. They instilled in me the ability to recognize the importance of helping others, without ever wanting or needing anything in return. My parents were never rich. We lived in poverty for most of my life. Some days, we didn't have anything to eat, and other days were better than the day before. But my parents were rich in knowledge and kindness. And that is the only thing that has mattered to me since - helping others. 

 

As a child of immigrants, they knew that I would face a harsh world; an un-accepting world filled with hate, prejudice, and inequality. A world that maybe wouldn't understand who I was, nor give me the opportunity to become anybody. For immigrant families like mine, this was our reality. It was evident everywhere we went. People would make fun of my parents and make negative comments when they couldn't speak English. When my parents would ask us to translate for them, the looks of judgement that we received by onlookers made us feel like we would never belong. This treatment was normalized, it was even expected. It was the world that my parents thought would give us the "American Dream."

What I've learned throughout the years is that this world has forced us to be silent. Our people, our families, our communities have become accustomed to remaining silent, because if we stay quiet, you will go unnoticed. Immigrants not only battle language barriers, but often immigration status. Suddenly, the word on the street is, "es mejor bajar la cara y seguir caminando!" We accepted it like it was our destiny. 

It's not our destiny. 

This anti-immigrant rhetoric plaguing our conversations, our social media, our news outlets has got to stop. Immigrants are the foundation of America and we are entitled to have a voice. We should elevate our collective voices and stand together. We cannot keep walking with our heads down hoping that this too will pass. Like my parents, immigrants have done nothing wrong! They seek a simple opportunity to feed their children and give them a chance at success. And this...is something to be proud of. We are the hardest workers in this country and no matter what, no one can take that away from us. 

I stand up for my parents, who were silenced for so long. I stand up for my community and countless families that don't always have a voice and are forced to live in the shadows. I stand up because my parents told me to stand up. They told me that I am Mexican-American and that I should NEVER be afraid. 

-Monica Valencia

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