Thankful for American Dream

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year, a time to reflect and be thankful for all the blessings we have received. Over the years, my family embraced American culture and values more and more, until Thanksgiving became my fathers’ favorite holiday.

This holiday also holds a special place in my heart because it reminds me of “Pops”, who would have turned 59 this past Saturday. But he passed away four years ago from kidney cancer, and every year since, I have become more grateful for the sacrifices that he and my mother made to provide a better life for myself and my siblings.

My family came to America in 1988, from Mexico. After years of working very low-paying jobs for petroleum companies and maquiladoras in the border town of Mexicali, my parents and extended family decided that the only way to provide a better future for their children was to immigrate to America. So my 10 aunts and uncles, 5 cousins, my parents, two older brothers and myself all came to California and settled in a two-bedroom apartment in the Coachella Valley. Needless to say, it was a tight situation and, although I was young, I have vivid memories of that crowded space. It took seven years of moving between rental properties and being extremely frugal with resources until my parents were finally able to buy a home of their own—to live the American Dream!

Although I grew up knowing that my family struggled to make it, I hadn’t fully appreciated the sacrifices that my parents made to give us a better life. My father was a landscaper and my mother was a hotel housekeeper. They worked long, physically demanding jobs and made just above minimum wage. Yet found time to eat together every day, while teaching us the importance of God and Family. It still amazes me when I think about it and it serves as a reminder and point of inspiration as my wife and I work towards providing a better life for our three children.

Recounting this story today is extraordinary because now it’s almost impossible for a family of 4, making slightly above minimum wage, to buy a home in California. Don’t get me wrong, my parents worked hard to achieve the American Dream but the circumstances that allowed them to do that are, sadly, disappearing.

My wife and I are blessed with loving families and their support, and are so grateful for the opportunities that we have been given. We have three young daughters who we love raising in National City. My wife is a teacher and I am an organizer. We earn modest wages and our full-time schedules often leave us physically drained. But thinking about what our parents did to provide a better life for us puts things in perspective and pushes us to do the same. But I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult.

After a particularly hard year for America, these memories, especially of my father, seem more important than ever. We’ve somehow descended down a path that most people thought America had left behind decades ago, with racial tensions coming to violent and even deadly conclusions in cities across the country, and talk of nuclear war has come back to the national discussion as a possible outcome. Meanwhile the top 1% tries to convince us that they are overtaxed and that we are the ones that need to make more sacrifices. Achieving what my father and mother did 20 years ago is becoming more and more illusive for average Americans today. The story of my parents’ success is the story of America and the reason our country still stands as a beacon of hope in the world. That is why I am running for office.

I am running for city council to demand that the American Dream be attainable to everyone living in National City; because every human deserves a place to call home; because every worker deserves a living wage; because government needs to work on behalf of everyone’s interests (not just the 1%); and because I know, if we work hard and make sacrifices, we can achieve the society that we deserve. I owe it to our Creator and my father to leave this world a better place and to provide opportunities to my children that I didn’t have, like my parents did for me. Considering the direction of our country, we have our work cut out for us; but I, for one, am ready.

Jose Rodriguez

Edited by Anthony Ortiz

Patricia Perez and Pablo Rodriguez, 2009