"They shared their stories with us, but they didn't complain," said Cardenas, a Democrat running for Congress in the San Fernando Valley, "and they didn't want to hear complaints."
Benjamin Campos, a Republican accountant from Lakewood running in a district that stretches north from his hometown to South El Monte, said that will to overcome remained a central principle in his father's life even decades after he left the avocado groves and landed a job at the Firestone tire plant in Paramount. Like Cardenas, Campos was born after his parents left the fields and settled in the city.
State Sen. Juan Vargas grew up on a chicken ranch near National City, crammed into a tiny house with nine brothers and sisters — so poor that, were it not for free eggs and fryers, there would have been hungry nights.
Still, the home was a step up from when he father was picking tomatoes as a bracero in Otay Mesa.
Vargas' mother ruled the roost with love, discipline and a faithful Catholic's belief that her children "had a duty to make the world a better place," he said.
"Back East, there is that sort of pride of an immigrant making it from the bottom up. There's a feeling of a shared experience," said Vargas, whose wife came from a family of Italian stonemasons who settled in New York. "You don't see that out here … but, oftentimes, our stories are just as heroic."
Raul Ruiz's mother, who arrived in the Coachella Valley in the late 1960s to pick peppers under the hot desert sun, pushed her children to study and work hard, saying those traits, not the family's modest beginnings, would shape their lives.
"There are people who think that because you work in the fields, or because you are poor, or because you are from Mexico, that you are less," Blanca Ruiz said. "You learn that who you are is more important than what you own."
Raul Ruiz, 40, now an emergency room doctor at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, said he never forgot the pride and self-reliance of the workers in the fields and the packinghouses.
While a student at Coachella Valley High School in 1990, he raised about $2,000 walking door-to-door, asking shopkeepers and residents to help pay his college tuition.
He promised to become a doctor and to return to the valley to care for those in need.
In 2007, after graduating from Harvard Medical School, he did. While working at community clinics, he saw immigrant towns in the southern Coachella Valley overwhelmed by despair.
"My father told me never to complain," he said, "if you're not going to be part of the solution."