Life is risky, especially these days. We drive cars while talking on our phones, applying makeup, and singing along with the radio. But risk can also enrich our lives—by pushing us out of our comfort zone to confront our worst fears. The story of my parents demonstrates the value of taking a risk and betting everything on a dream.
My father Rodolfo “Rudy” Sanchez was born in Leon, Guanajuato, about a hundred miles northeast of Guadalajara in the middle of Mexico. He moved with his family to Chihuahua, then settled in the border town of Juarez. There, he worked as a rancher and was responsible for mending fences for the property manager. Rudy was a hard worker and gained responsibility quickly because of his attitude and work ethic. He was often the first one to arrive and the last one to leave.
My mother was born and raised in Chihuahua and moved to Juarez when she was a teenager. My mother knew almost nothing of her history because she was an orphan. She had an identical twin sister with whom she reunited after almost 30 years of separation, and most of their family history was recalled through stories and secondhand accounts.
My mother’s greatest insecurity was never knowing her family or why they abandoned her. I can only imagine the pain associated with growing up in an orphanage in Mexico. People often described my mother as reserved, serious, or closed off. These personality traits are usually associated with damaged people who don’t want others getting too close. But behind my mother’s stern facade, she only wanted her children to live a better life than hers.
My mother was tough and bright. She was always planning something or working on a new idea. She had an entrepreneurial spirit and knew how to make a buck. I remember her telling me stories about selling homemade breakfast burritos to construction workers on her way to work. She used the money to buy us new clothes, better food, or something else for the family; she rarely spent money on herself. That was her nature.
During and after World War II, agricultural laborers were in short supply around the country—but especially in western states. My father was an experienced farmer working mostly in Texas at the time. He later joined a federally-run program that brought laborers from Mexico to states like California, Arizona, and Nevada. After a few years, he was able to find work for both himself and my mother at a fruit cannery in Central California. The workers’ living quarters were cramped and packed with children. The days were long and arduous. In a leap of courage, they left Central California for Los Angeles.
My parents settled in Compton, California. It was the 1950s. James Dean, Elvis, and Marlon Brando were running Hollywood. Los Angeles had a soaring middle class, a baby boom, and Chicanos in zoot suits with chains riding in big, shiny cars. Los Angeles, the city Kerouac called “a jungle,” had become home.
Part 2 of this story is here.