I see the same work ethic and gratitude and grit and integrity, and it breaks my heart that this new generation of immigrants is being cast away.
I call him my American dream. When we met during the summer of 2000 while working for The Oregonian newspaper, our differences intrigued me as much as our shared interests. We were fresh-faced college graduates. We bonded over basketball, books and politics.
I was white and middle class, the daughter of college-educated parents. He, the son of Mexican immigrants and the first in his family to graduate college. On our first date, I asked him what he would do if he received a windfall of money. I answered first and quickly: I would quit work and travel. He answered quietly and thoughtfully. He would pay off his parents’ house so his dad could retire from working 12-hour days under the hot L.A. sun as a garbageman.
Although born in this country, my husband, Ed, did not learn English until he started elementary school. And he lost his accent during high school, tired of being a verbal punching bag for the upper class white classmates at his Boston-area boarding school.
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Ed’s parents and aunts came to the U.S. in the 1970s from rural Mexico. His dad was deported twice, plucked from the farmlands of California’s Central Valley. His mom and aunts labored in the L.A. garment district sweat shops. Thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program in the 1980s, Ed’s parents and aunts received green cards and were able to find more stable employment, with some of his family becoming citizens.
Other family members saw the amnesty program as a government trap that would lead to their deportation, and life has been harder for them. I used to think that level of government suspicion was ridiculous. At least, until this year.
In elementary school, Ed was invited to apply for a talented and gifted program. He helped his mom fill out all of the forms and mailed them himself. Like a lot of immigrant kids, he still translates for his parents and helps them with bills and paperwork.
Growing up in East L.A., gang violence claimed some of Ed’s middle-school classmates. In the first month of his ninth grade year, Ed was handed a full scholarship to attend an East Coast boarding school. Given just a few days to make a decision and pack his bags, he convinced his parents that he should go. Boston probably felt like China, but he did it. His parents were brokenhearted, but they trusted him.
Then came Stanford, The New York Times, Washington Post and now Ed is an assistant metro editor at The Seattle Times. Ed worked hard and persisted amid adversity, and he had a lot of help from caring teachers and other benefactors. But he was also extremely lucky. He was born before our country shut off any meaningful way to gain legal status in this country.
I see my husband in so many of the “Dreamers.” I see the same work ethic and gratitude and grit and integrity, and it breaks my heart that they are being cast away.
Over Labor Day weekend, my family was enjoying a family bike ride near Magnuson Park when a carload of white men approached us and hurled a racial slur at Ed. He brushed it off and continued to enjoy the ride, because he refuses to be bitter. I, on the other hand, stewed on my bike and could only think of how ignorance is winning in our country. We all need Dreamers, at least as much as they need our support. We all need to feel inspired by the American dream again.
We desperately need a reminder that our country is still a just and compassionate place, current administration notwithstanding. Our country is stronger and better when our schools, neighborhoods and workplaces are diverse.
Looks like the fight is moving to Congress. Let’s defend DACA and give this rising generation the same opportunities that my own husband received.