As a child I couldn’t grasp the sacrifices they made to realize the American dream. Instead, I yearned to blend in with my classmates, whose grandparents didn’t watch telenovelas, speak another language, or expect them to go to Catholic Mass every Sunday.
This struggle is something my daughter won’t face. Her physical traits—blue eyes, blonde hair, pale complexion—don’t hint at her Mexican-American heritage. Her last name is Irish. She attends an immersion preschool, but we rarely speak Spanish at home. When she spends time with my father, they watch YouTube videos of farm animals instead of telenovelas. I haven’t taken her to a single Mass, much less baptized her.
I consider it my responsibility, however, to ensure she understands how her family fought to forge a better future on her behalf. She must know that even if her class and skin color afford countless privileges, her forebears were determined to win dignity and equality when few recognized their worth. This knowledge is her inheritance. I hope it will guide her in a world that offers too many opportunities to be cruel to those we don’t know or understand. I will one day show her the paintings her great-grandmother made in her 50s, after obtaining a GED and attending community college. I’ll describe how my father’s classmates and teachers bullied him for speaking Spanish, and how he went on to receive a master’s degree.
I’m not a devout Catholic like my father, but I will take her to church eventually because she deserves to witness faith firsthand. We don’t live close enough to relatives to have Sunday gatherings where she can play tag with a dozen cousins. I can guarantee, though, that she’ll appreciate the importance of family ties.
I won’t know for a long time if I’m doing this right, but if it sustains my daughter in some critical way, I will have succeeded.