My dad, Jose Louis Perez, was the youngest of 10 children. He was born in Mexico.
In the early 60’s, his parents decided that life in Mexico didn’t present the opportunities that America did. It was at that time my grandparents decided to come to America.
My father did not have a vote in that decision.
Instead, he found himself living in a new home in South Central Los Angeles. He told me that his parents were looking for the most affordable place to live in LA, but that affordability came at a price. Not too long after they arrived, the family found themselves in the middle of one of America’s worst riots, the Watts Riots. This, along with the “Million Man March” and growing up during the Civil Rights era, forever left an impression on my father.
Life was better in the U.S. than Mexico but it was not easy by any means. This was especially true as a Mexican teen battling the daily racist remarks from kids at school and the low paying job struggle that families were experiencing as immigrants from Mexico. Everywhere they turned my family and my father were being judged. People didn’t expect my father or his Mexican companions to make much out of their lives. My dad knew that, and felt that.
[My dad] loved this country. He served in uniform and wanted to officially claim that he was a United States citizen.
Even though at times it seemed that America didn’t love him and his brown skin, my dad always loved the United States. To my father, he was American. Indeed in 1976, one short year after the end of the Vietnam War and amidst still strong anti-war and anti-military sentiment, my dad volunteered to join the United States Army at the age of 17. For him, joining the military was his testimony to his obligation as an American and something of prestige and honor.
Shortly after boot camp, his recruiter told him he could advance if he got some of his buddies from the block to join. My dad was so proud to wear the uniform and be given an opportunity that kids in South Central didn’t have at that time he eagerly took up the challenge to recruit several Mexican kids from his neighborhood who quickly saw opportunity and prestige in wearing the uniform too. They were all proud Mexican-Americans and now they were proud members of the U.S. military.
During leave around 1978, father met my mom and the rest is history. My dad’s nickname while he served was “G.I. Joe”. I thought it was a cool name since I was the eldest of three girls and I was the only tomboy in the family. While the girls played with Barbie dolls, talked about their hair and wore dresses, I played with G.I. Joe’s, had messy hair and wore my dad’s combat boots. I would pretend to jump out of helicopters like my dad did with the 101st Airborne.
My dad was my mentor, he was also a mentor to young soldiers in his command and he absolutely loved everything and anything Army.
This, in my opinion, is 100% the opposite of what our Founding Fathers wanted for this country.
A couple of things that always stuck with me throughout my life was my dad telling me that every generation gets stronger by getting smarter. Education was HUGE for my father. Grit was learned early in life for him and for me as a kid. I also had a tough time growing up too as a kid. It was mostly because I carried the last name Perez and my family was a little different than other American families. People also expected me to go nowhere too. I knew that and I felt that throughout my life. My dad always said through achieving a solid education and through hard work, it would ultimately be the way to leave our/your mark.
The second thing that stuck with me was my dad becoming a United States citizen shortly after the 1st Gulf War. Finally becoming a U.S. citizen was probably one of his biggest accomplishments and always something he had talked about and dreamt about. He loved this country. He served in uniform and wanted to officially claim that he was a United States citizen. Unfortunately, he was discharged from the Army medically and a few years later he passed away in summer 1995. I’m glad he was able to achieve his dream of becoming a United States citizen and spent 16 years of his life doing what he loved the most, serving in the US Army. His passing took a heavy toll on our family during that time.
After high school, I joined the Navy because of my father. I served eight years honorably from 1997 to 2005. I’m still serving today outside of uniform throughout my community. So, when I hear politicians not supporting “The Dreamers” and looking to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, I can’t help but think of my father. This was his story. This could have been my father if he had been born two decades later.
I see the stories of “The Dreamers”. Many of them serve in uniform as police and in the military. They serve in the communities as teachers and mentors, just like my father. They only know the United States to be their home country. They also know how much harder they have to work because they know that there would always be people who will always judge them and expect them not to do anything with their life. I know this because it happened to my dad growing up and it happened to me.
This, in my opinion, is 100% the opposite of what our Founding Fathers wanted for this country. I believe they would be embarrassed and angry to see those citizens holding themselves out as patriots issuing calls to rip everything that “The Dreamers” worked for in life, to make a political point. Especially for those that sacrificed their safety and security to serve this country.
What base are you serving when you agree to take away the promise and hope of a person who came to this country as a very young individual, who overcame tough odds, assimilated, and made contributions to society? As a daughter of one of those original Dreamers who also answered the call of duty, it is not just wrong, it is in the end un-American. To me, “The Dreamers” are the American story. People just like my father. Let them fulfill their dream and let them succeed in society for the benefit of America, just like my father.
My sharing of this story is for my father and also for my entire family, as one of those Mexican-American immigrant success stories I would wish we would celebrate rather than denigrate. Generations of success, from me and now to my children. We are all Dreamers. We dream of a place where people can truly be free without judgment and the ability to thrive no matter what our background is. God Bless this America.
Elizabeth Marie Perez, for Lima Charlie News
Comments & opinions are my own.
U.S Navy Veteran, entrepreneur, White House Champion of Change 2013, U.S Delegate to Japan 2013, U.S. Delegate to Israel 2016 and Appointed By Governor Brown July 2017 to serve on the Veteran’s Board, MBA student at Syracuse University Whitman School of Business Management, Truman National Security Project fellow.
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