Celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month: My Story

Post by Emily Fontenot

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By Alejandro Mandes

Since June is Immigrant Heritage Month I would like to share about my family’s immigrant journey.

My mother’s family have lived in South Texas for many generations, specifically in Lardeo, which sits on the US and Mexico border. I often joke that long ago my family went to sleep as Mexicans and overnight became Americans or Texicans, a result of the 1836 Texas Annexation.

My father was born in Puerto Rico in 1920. His family was very poor so he became a wheeler-dealer street urchin skimming money from American tourists. During WWII the US army recruited him, along with many other Puerto Ricans. Since he could speak some English, albeit Spanglish, he was quickly promoted to corporal. He served as a translator for the American soldiers while also acting as a buffer with the Puerto Rican soldiers.

After the war he immigrated to the US and eventually brought much of his family as well.

What I remember of my father was his incredible work ethic. Even though he didn’t finish school he was an insatiable learner. He read the paper everyday and often bought magazines. One of my greatest inheritances was his collection of National Geographic.

I think my father’s greatest impact on me was his entrepreneur spirit. He was always starting businesses. He started four businesses that he then morphed into other businesses. I remember going to his store Corpus Christi Beauty and Barber Supply to work on Sunday afternoons and also riding with him to visit his circuit of Beauty and Barber shops. He was a MASTER of relationships. When he showed up at a store the place lit up and people stopped what they were doing to hear his stories and jokes. They would buy what they needed and a bit more.

He was not content to only sell new barber chairs. He would buy old stuff and retrofit it to sell again. He even went to Japan to learn how they were made and trained as a tech on the intricacies of the equipment. He said his refurbished equipment was better than the new ones.

I think his greatest gift to me was the thirst to learn, the willingness to do what is not done and being a bridge between peoples. I learned that ignorance is not a state…. it is a surmountable challenge. I learned that if something doesn’t exist – create it. I learned that people need bridges to span cultures. I have started many churches and have founded several non-profit organizations. I credit both of my fathers (heaven and earth) example to those ends. We all have faults and my earthly father had many but he was a great influence even to this day.

Immigrants by design are self-selected risk-taking entrepreneurs. May God afflict many many more on us. May our churches and communities realize the blessing they can be to us. They keep us new and refreshed. While June ends tomorrow, let us continue to share these stories. Immigrants have rich stories to tell!

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