John was just 17 years old when he was encouraged by his mother to leave his homeland in search of a better way of life. With very little money in his pocket, he set out on a long and perilous journey for America. With little education and no sense at all of what lay outside his small farming village, he knew he would be able to offer only one skill to his new country, that of manual labor.
He entered America illegally in New York and made his way inland. Initially he lived with friends and neighbors who had made the same journey a few years earlier. He took jobs anywhere, doing anything that needed to be done at a very meager wage. He was unable to join any organized union or complain about his mistreatment or abuse out of fear of deportation.
Over the next 10 years, he managed to survive. He sent money back to his mother on a regular basis but was still able to save enough to get out on his own. He established himself in a community where most of the residents were from the same area of his homeland country. They spoke the mother tongue, ate familiar foods and continued the traditions that they cherished.
He entered into an arranged marriage, which was a normal custom for his culture at that time. He also bought a truck and started a business that would be his sole source of income for years to come to support his growing family.
At some point, John applied for and was given a Green Card and became a resident alien who had to report to the government each year. He did this faithfully, again, in fear of deportation.
It wasn’t until he was in his 60s that his children convinced him to become a U. S. citizen. He studied hard, passed the test and was granted citizenship, which turned out to be a proud moment in his life.
The last years of his life were spent in a skilled nursing facility; dementia had stilled his active mind and created physical challenges. He reverted back to speaking his native tongue and didn’t recognize the familiar faces of his family and friends.
But John’s life did not end sadly. He left a great legacy of the man who dared to face life by going into the unknown and using every resource to forge a new life in a strange country that was not always kind to him. He overcame many adversities to make a good life for his successful and grateful children, and yes, we are proud.
You see, John was my dad.
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