While most of you were spilling your coffee over the nasty Mexican gangbangers in Sharon Angle's latest campaign ads, I couldn't help notice how much those thugs look like the boys I grew up with in the barrio -- including my two brothers.
More than 60 years ago, my father, Santiago, snuck across the border, just like the millions of Mexicans who work and live here illegally today. He was deported, crossed back over, was deported again, then finally obtained work papers that allowed him to bring his wife and children with him to Chicago's South Side.
While my mother worked in a commercial laundry that cleaned linens for all the big hotels downtown, my father worked overtime in a furniture factory and drove a cab on weekends. Several nights a week, he mopped the floors at our parish school, so that his six kids could go there. My parents' hard work paid off. As the Mexican migration peaked and one block after another "flipped," my parents were able to move to progressively safer streets. Each time, we were among the first Mexicans. Each time, the Polish families resented us. And, each time, Ma and Pa worked tirelessly to be seen as "one of the good ones." Ma kept our stoop clean and planted flowers in our small yard. Pa always found time to fix the Polish widows' appliances and paint over the graffiti that covered the block.
My brothers, sisters and I generally followed Pa's lead -- and felt his same insecurities. When the nuns at St. Pius seemed surprised by the refried bean sandwiches we brought for lunch, Danny, the oldest, tried to convince them it was tunafish. Whenever we saw the widows frowning at us from their windowsills, we'd stop our games and go inside. While we could see Chicago's skyline from our bedroom window, we kept to our block and ourselves. Years later, when I earned a scholarship to Northwestern University, I was happy to be mistaken for Italian or Greek.
The fact is, you don't feel poverty as the absence of nice things. You feel it as fear -- and failure. Good men who got injured on the job lost their homes and became drunks. Their sons joined gangs, and their daughters got pregnant. Without someone like my father looking over your shoulder, it could be hard to see the point of being a "good one." And being a "good one" didn't necessarily mean you'd fit in.
Thanks to Pa, my family prospered. My brother Danny served in the Marines, taught high school and began canvassing the neighborhood. Decades before charter schools became popular, he founded an alternative high school for reformed gangbangers and unwed teen moms. With the help of those nuns from St. Pius, he created a community service organization that's spent the past 25 years registering hundreds of thousands of new voters. Today, it manages charter schools serving nearly 4,000 Chicago children.
My brother Juni got caught up in the gangs Angle conjures in her ads, but broke free, distinguished himself with the Chicago Fire Department, and started two successful businesses.
Solis's are driving Chicago buses, teaching school, running political campaigns, and patrolling some of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods with the CPD. I have a niece working in finance at the Board of Trade and a nephew that just returned from Afghanistan and his third tour in Iraq.
Danny won't be running for mayor this year, but he's president of the City Council. We won't be sitting in a luxury box at Soldier's Field this Sunday, but Juny helped build the security company that guards its gates.
Of course, they didn't do it alone. They had help from the men and women we helped elect. Mayor Richard Daley supported Danny's early efforts and boosted city hiring of Hispanics. His economic development policies created jobs for the boys on my block and encouraged White yuppies to build lofts nearby.
While my brothers and sisters made lives for themselves in Chicago, I followed my passion for politics from Chicago City Hall to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Washington, DC. I saw firsthand how Daley, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Barack Obama each made racial and ethnic unity a priority -- in big ways (like promoting education, welfare and immigration reform) and small (like hiring and grooming Hispanic staff).
Most of my white friends see Angle's ads as the ugly, opportunistic stunts they are. But we need to see the larger picture. Angle could win next Tuesday, and I think she's just told us what we can expect when it comes to bringing Americans together -- to helping the Mexicans in her State realize the opportunities that brought them to America in the first place.
I'm sure Angle would defend her ads by pointing out that she's only talking about the "bad ones." Mexicans like me -- who understand what it takes to be a "good one" -- know better.
Light a brown face the wrong way and the shot says "thug." See a brown face in a different light, you just might have what it takes to lead.
Patti Solis Doyle is a partner at the Utrecht Phillips law firm. She served for eight years on the First Lady's staff in the Clinton White House, ran Hillary Clinton's political action committee, and managed her 2008 presidential campaign. During the 2008 general election, she served as chief of staff to Joe Biden.