Many people live in worlds where the odds are stacked against them. Lots of times, hope just doesn’t live in areas where people suffer from poverty, discrimination, and negative expectations. However, it is very possible for hope to thrive, even in rocky soil. I know this from experience. I would not be here if not for the persistent hope that characterized my dad, even at the hardest points in his life.
My dad grew up in rural Mexico. The closest town was not very close at all, and the closest city was hours away from his family’s small farm. Days were long. When the kids weren’t working the rocky fields, they were struggling to complete a basic elementary education at the tiny village school. Most didn’t make it past fifth grade.
The expectation for my dad, his brothers, and the other kids from Las Bocas, Zacatecas, was that they would continue the traditions of subsistence farming and alcoholism typical of their small town’s culture. However, my dad hoped to escape that cycle and create something more for himself, even at a very young age.
For this reason, he immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico at 14, alone and without knowing a word of English. His hope for what he called a “better life” motivated him to learn English, get the best education possible, and pick up numerous jobs to support himself. This hope motivated my dad to become the first in his family to graduate from college.
It was not easy. My dad faced discrimination, an education system that neglected English learners, and many other setbacks. But his hope never faded and, in many ways, he achieved the American Dream, complete with the two-story house and white picket fence.
My dad is now a fifth-grade teacher in Los Angeles. He works at a school on the not-so-nice side of town, mostly because he wishes to pass hope on to his students.
He seems to be doing a good job at it. A few months ago, one of his first students came back for a visit. She had just graduated from Harvard Medical School and wanted to thank my dad for motivating her.
My dad hasn’t just motivated the many students he’s taught in the past 20 years. He’s also passed on his hope to his little girl. Even during my most discouraged and frustrated moments I have that hope to fall back on. From my dad’s story and guidance, I’ve learned that I too can work hard and always hope for more.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.