While attending a police officer graduation recently, I unexpectedly choked up. As I looked out at the fresh faces of the new officers, many of them Latinos and Latinas, I noticed a father standing in the back. In a sea of blue uniforms, he was easy to spot in his blue jeans and cowboy hat. Dark-skinned and dignified, the man had reminded me of my own father.
As I approach my second Father's Day without him, I keep thinking of that father, quietly standing in the back, supporting his child in pursuing noble work and the American dream. Like my father, he had the bearing of a Macho Mexicano. Not the Mexican macho of our stereotypes -- the kind of Mexican macho that is a responsible, honorable and caring provider.
Looking back on my childhood, I credit my father for unconsciously modeling the positive aspects of Mexican Machismo for his sons and daughters: bravery, loyalty, pride in self, responsibility, respect for others and humility.
Heliodoro Guerrero first came to the U.S. with nothing more than a second grade education. He knew, maybe only unconsciously, that destiny was not a matter chance, but a matter of choice. In taking his destiny into his own strong hands, he blazed new trails -- for his kids and for many of the families who later immigrated from our pueblito in Guanajuato to California.
He showed that even a life of quiet simplicity can have a profound impact on history. Not the kind of history that is written about in books, but the kind of history that changes the lives of family, friends and neighbors.
My father was just 12 years old when he crossed the Rio Grande with his father in 1948. He worked the farm fields of Texas and handed over his entire paycheck to his father, as his father expected. The white ranchers would sometimes tell Heliodoro Sr. to put that little boy in school, but they ultimately looked the other way. My dad was an excellent laborer whose body was as efficient as a machine at picking cotton, tomatoes, or lettuce.
As soon as he was old enough, he registered as a bracero. He would tell me the story of the day in 1957 when he and a truckload of braceros were brought to downtown Santa Rosa, California. There, they were put on display for the Sonoma County farmers to choose from. I can imagine him, stoic and dignified, both hating being on display, and yet eager to work and earn an honest paycheck.
My father was quickly hired by a Japanese American apple farmer. The farmer was a good and decent man who had lived through the internment camps in Colorado. He appreciated that my father was always cumplido, a responsible and accountable man. He helped my dad get a green card and to settle down on his farm in Sebastopol, just up the road from where my dad is now buried.
In return, my dad never let the farmer down. Soon, other hard working men from our pueblo followed my dad to Furusho Bros farm. Today, there are dozens of strong Guanajuatense men and women working the apple orchards, vineyards, dairy and poultry farms of Sonoma County. He blazed the trail for future generations of American families from our little pueblito in Mexico.
What he lacked in formal education -- he made up for in with work ethic. He believed an honest day's work was an honorable goal. Whether he was bent over a bucket picking apples for 12 hours, or getting up at 4:00 AM to spray pesticides, my father never once complained. He never took a sick day -- except for that time in 1980, when his boss took him to the hospital because his appendix was about to burst.
When he got home from his long work days, our family always had dinner together. On weeknights and Sundays, he took us to the library, to church and to the park. He never let us spend the night at the homes of any of our friends, but our gavachito friends were always welcome in our humble home. We were poor and we knew it. But we also knew that our dad was going to work hard and save every penny possible from his minimum wage paycheck in order to take us to Mexico for Christmas every year.
He didn't push us to get a formal education. He did expect us to work hard however. Nothing made him prouder than to know we did. I didn't see much of him the last two years that he was alive. My work in Los Angeles was keeping me too busy to make the trek to northern California. But I would call him a couple of times a week. And our conversation was always the same: He would ask, "Como to va en el trabajo mija?" My answers were always the same. "Estoy echandole ganas, pops." "Ando en chinga, pops." He would laugh, beaming with pride.
My mother was the last one to talk to him before cancer took his life. She found him awake in the middle of the night, standing with the help of his walker. She tried to get him to go to bed, but he refused. "No ves que estoy trabajando?" He said. "Can't you see that I am working?"
"Tengo que terminar." "I have to finish." In his mind he was a boy again, tilling the soil, working alongside his father. He refused to go to bed until several hours later -- until he was done with his work.
I imagine that is what he is doing now as he watches over his family. He is a young, strong Macho Mexicano, trabajando en el campo somewhere on this or that side of the border, en chinga y echandole ganas.