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Different Lives, Shared Hopes

Family and traditions are universal.

June 11, 2005|John Berge | John Berge lives in Corona.

Javier is a proud man, a painter. Through broken English, I learned that he is from the Mexican state of Michoacan; he has a home in the city of Zamora. Fifteen years ago Javier made the trek north to California, ending up in an Orange County community with others from Michoacan. Like Javier, they came intending to provide a better life for their families left behind.

When Javier came north many years ago, his oldest child, a then-12-year-old daughter, who he proudly proclaimed is now an attorney, had little understanding of the economics of Papa's decision. Gazing at the picture he shared with me, I could see in her eyes the pride she must feel that Papa had made her education possible.

Javier left a baby daughter as well. Newborn when he left, she is approaching 15, with a quinceanera planned for December. Javier will be there for the celebration, surrounded by 400 friends and family to honor this tradition that will mark her birthday. Javier grew misty-eyed as he described how his baby was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 7.

By then he had already left the factory jobs and was making good money as a housepainter. The chemotherapy treatments drained any savings he had, and he worked feverishly day and night to send money home for the treatments. The leukemia has been in remission for seven years and the approaching quinceanera has added meaning. "I must buy 100 pollos for the celebration, each will feed four people, no? We will also have rice and beans, and sodas and tequila too!"

Javier proudly described the second level that added to his home in Zamora. "It cost $5,000, and I did all the work myself in only three weeks!" he explained. "My son will start college soon and I will have to send more money, but education is very important to me -- so it's OK." .

When Javier finished the painting that I had hired him for at my son's home, I asked him how much he would charge for painting the kitchen, three bathrooms, two bedrooms and various touch-ups at our home. He said, "Is $220 OK?" I told him to wait just a minute as I went to find my wife. "He only wants $220 for the whole job," I said with surprise. "Give him $300. That was a lot of work," she replied.

I went back to Javier and said, "How about $340 for the day?" I offered to give him a check. He told me that he couldn't take a check because he had been robbed the week before by "dos bandidos," who took his check-cashing card and other identification. One held a gun to his stomach, the other a knife to his back. They also took his wallet, which had $400 in it. He would have had $1,200 but he had just wired $800 to his family.

I couldn't help but think that there are similarities in our lives. Javier is a lot like you and I. Family is important, traditions have special meaning, enriching our quality of life and ensuring a better life for our children is something we all embrace.

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