Happy (belated) Turkey Day, Merry Christmas, Hanukkah Sameach, Heri za Kwanzaa, and Happy Holidays--almost! December is here--a season to give and share and connect with others (in a different way this year!).

Today, we want to share a story--a story that humbles us. This story reminds us that while we see others' successes, we never know what difficulties they face below the surface. In this season of giving, let's think of others and give back in our own ways, whether it's making our loved ones proud, paying it forward, or setting up future generations for a better life!

Claudia Gomez

Benefits Service Specialist

I am first generation Mexican American. I am proud to be the daughter of immigrants.

Claudia's mother (middle) at her quincenera with her godparents.

Claudia's mother (middle) at her quincenera, with her godparents

My mother was born in a small town in Michoacán, Mexico. She was raised in a family where they were so poor, there were days they could not afford to eat a single meal. Her father would disappear for months at a time for work which was difficult on the family, and sometimes he would return with nothing. My mother is eldest of 8 children and she says she still remembers her own mother crying at night, knowing there was no money or food to eat the next day. Once my mother turned 17, she was responsible for helping support her family financially, so she decided to travel to the U.S. for work. She was afraid, but she knew she didn’t have a choice as there was no future for her back in Mexico and her family needed her. When she arrived, instead of finishing high school she began working two jobs so she could pay for herself and send money back to her family—a choice many immigrants make for the betterment of their loved ones. Aside from working two jobs for several years, she also took English classes in the evening to learn the language. It wasn't an easy time, but all these choices were an easy 'yes' if it meant taking care of her family.

Claudia's father at 8 years old in Mexico, riding a Zebu Bull.

Claudia's father at 8 years old in Mexico, riding a Zebu Bull

My father is the eldest of 9 children and they lived in a small town in Zacatecas, Mexico. As the eldest, he was always responsible for his siblings. At the age of 5 he was already working with his father herding cattle and helping his mother with her sewing business. In his teen years he worked as a jockey and raced horses for money. After college, he became an accountant. A couple of years later, he lost his job and didn’t see any prosperous opportunities in Zacatecas. So he took the opportunity to make the journey north at the age of 21. He traveled to California, eventually moving to Chicago where he worked double shifts as a bus boy as well as several factory jobs.

Claudia Gomez's father (right) in Mexico, before moving to America.

Claudia's father (right) before moving to America

My mother was 19 when she met my father. After they got married, they moved to Chicago. My mother was promoted to a better role within the factory where she worked. One of her white co-workers would always give her a hard time after that promotion. “She was jealous that I got the role and she didn’t,” my mother said. She would constantly bully my mother and call her racist names, as if the color of her skin made her less qualified for the job. “Eventually I learned that racism is everywhere, I defended myself on occasions but more than anything I learned to just ignore it,” my mother explained. I learned to just ignore it. Those words ring in my ears and is an unfortunate truth many people of color have just accepted. We must change those words.

Claudia Gomez's parents on their wedding day.

Claudia's parents on their wedding day

On the other hand, my father only spoke Spanish, so he had difficulty communicating. “People would criticize me for speaking Spanish or tell me to go back to my country,” he recalls. Despite the language barrier, he never allowed it to get in the way of his work--he just had to work even harder to prove his skills. He eventually got the opportunity to work as a welder at Caterpillar where he dedicated 35 years. Upon his retirement, he was awarded by the vice-president of the company for having perfect attendance. In 35 years, he missed a total of 2 days at work. “I always knew that I had a disadvantage for not speaking English. As an immigrant you always have to work twice as hard to get to where you want to be,” he told me. My father, an incredibly hard-working man, is now retired and fulfilling his dream back in Mexico continuing the family cattle business. 

Claudia Gomez's father on the Gomez family ranch in Mexico, standing on a horse.

Claudia's father on their family ranch in Mexico

My parents lived through many obstacles in their lives. They arrived in a nation with a different language, with no family, with no support, and people who didn't believe they belonged. They were separated from their families and lived many years without being able to see them. Both my father’s parents passed away and he could not visit them. “It was the hardest thing to live through,” he says. Despite it all, they did not let any obstacle stand in their way. Their goal was to give their family a better life, and they achieved that goal. My father says, “Many people do not accept you despite this being a nation of immigrants, and you must always give more than 100% to achieve your goals. You are here and you have that opportunity, so don’t let anybody take that from you.” There are so many invisible barriers people face and so many privileges you may have that you're unaware of--these are things we must remember in order to have compassion and empathy for those around us.

Claudia Gomez on her graduation day with her father (left), daughter (middle), and mother (right).

Claudia on her graduation day with her parents and one of her daughters

When I walked across that stage after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I turned to my parents with tears in my eyes and whispered “Gracias a ti! (thanks to you).” Because without their sacrifices, the opportunities I have been given would never have been possible for me. Through their fearlessness and perseverance, I’ve learned to work through the many obstacles in my life, as well as set a positive example for my two little girls.

To those who are not first-generation Americans, remember that at one point in time someone in your family made the brave decision to leave their homeland; to travel thousands of miles to an unknown place where they did not know the language or what to expect. They may have faced poverty, language barriers, racism, and more when they arrived. But thanks to them you are here, living a better life. You've got immense opportunity where they had few. We are all children of immigrants, because they made that decision for you, just like my parents did for me.

Claudia Gomez's parents laughing, present day.

Claudia's parents present day