A year ago, Donna Hernandez completed her training as a Consular Officer for the US Department of State. This is the story of how she got there.
by Donna Hernandez
My grandfather moved the Hernández family to California, my father’s first step towards a “better life.” In my father’s “better life” he has been a low-rider, a gang member, a factory worker, a mason, and a provider. Every wrinkle on his face is there for a reason. I can account for the ridge between his eyes and under his uni-brow. He says, “If you are a real man, you have a ridge.”
My mother ran away from El Salvador at the age of 18 because she wanted clean feet. She once contemplated becoming a nun for the sole idea of having clean feet. Her plan fell through when she found there was a $700 fee for the habit. Since she couldn’t be a nun in El Salvador she decided to chase her “better life” to the United States and buy shoes.
When I was born I became a new hope for my parent’s “better life.” In my household, if you did not meet the ultimate goal of wealth and stability, the second best thing would be to raise a respectable, well-educated child that reflects not your life, but your desires.
My mother wanted to be Miss Universe (she was torn between becoming a nun and a pageant queen). I was enrolled in ballet and Sunday School. My father wanted to be a cowboy. I was enrolled in horseback riding lessons and was forced to wear snakeskin boots at five-years-old. I am responsible for being my father’s “better life.” I am responsible for being my mother’s “better life”. In my parents’ eyes, to be their “better life” I can’t be like them.
My father worked in the grape fields alongside his father and brothers. I cannot handle working in the sun. My father has worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Christmas, New Years and Easter. My father has never complained. The day I received acceptance into college, my father cried for the first time.
My mother left her country at 18. I will never be forced to leave my home – to enter an unknown country – without knowing the language, without knowing a soul, without a dime to my name and without a place to stay. My mother used her dog walker, factory worker, house cleaner, and caregiver wages to buy her first car. She crashed seven times in that car learning how to drive. The day I received my acceptance into college, she looked up if there were accommodations for parents to live on campus.
I am reaching the steps of a “better life.” To my father, I am nothing like him. To my mother, I am nothing like her. Would I have learned the value of hard work without watching my father’s skin turn from caramel to stained leather? Would I have obtained humility if it were not for my mother’s life goal of having clean feet?
When I was hired as a Diplomat for the United States, I was praised for not being like my father and mother. But today I can say I am a dog walker, a low-rider, a house cleaner, a gang member, a caregiver, a mason, a factory worker, and a provider. I am exactly like my father. I am exactly like my mother. I am a United States Diplomat.