Cafe Hitch-hike


A different way of remembering JFK

John F. Kennedy was assassinated on this day 56 years ago in Dallas, Texas. I happened while my mother was still a child. Here's my family memory about this, which goes beyond the violence of the event:

When I think of JFK, I think of his portrait that my Grandpa Rey had in his room/den that was upstairs and faced the street. He slept there but also spent much of his spare time where he read, watched Spanish-language TV, sat with visitors, and held family summits and hard talks. I asked my mom when I was a kid why he had that picture, and she explained that after JFK was assassinated, his picture was was widely sold and people kept them in their homes. Mom also told me that JFK was president when Grandpa Rey became an American citizen in the early 1960s.

My mom also told me she watched Grandpa study for his citizenship exam where he learned about US government and took English classes. She was probably around 8 or 9 years old. He came from central Mexico in the mid-1930s (age 13) and told me he was sponsored by his maternal uncle who lived in Texas, and the Bracero program gave him working papers as an adult during WWII and thereafter. He eventually was naturalized in front of the federal courthouse in my hometown that became his home for the rest of his 89-year life.

Grandpa Rey later told me, as an adult, that he was so proud he got naturalized but more so because it was under a Catholic president. He said it made him think anything was possible in America and that it was a real land of opportunity where anyone could become successful.

Side note: although Grandpa felt this way, a lot Americans did not at the time because they assumed The Vatican would have undue influence on American politics under a Catholic president.

Here are the immigration stories that don't make our hateful leaders' speeches. The idea behind these stories and what compels people to leave their home, culture, language, and histories never is included. I once asked a friend what he would do if suddenly and for whatever reason, his area had no jobs or offered ways to make a living for whatever reason and the only place to do these was 2,000 miles away. What if that place also had a different language, climate, and way of life, not to mention people they're not used to being around? Would he want to make that drastic of a move just to have a job and be able to be a man, or would he make a move so his kids would have a chance for a better life or not be forced into a life of crime or violence?

Well, these questions don't matter to some. They think it's problem of the people who live in what they think are shithole nations anyhow. Some would say I sound like some coddling, bleeding heart liberal and socialist who has made this country worse. Anyhow, I share my grandfather's story in my attempt to humanize the issue. He was a real person who went through this, and I'm a product of all of that. The immigration debate needs to go beyond the hateful rhetoric that influences this conversation to show it's a topic that goes deeper than these cheap, sound-byte phrases. It's about life and the very human desire to improve what they've got and the willingness to go beyond what they thought they could do for it to happen.

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