My father, Jose Camarena, was the eldest of seven siblings. When my grandfather couldn’t make ends meet, he was expected to share his parents’ financial burdens.
At the unsullied age of six, he began to sell chiclets (gum) in the precarious streets of Mexico City. Words cannot describe the sadness that fills my heart to think of such desolation, even today.
Fifteen years later he met my mother, Silvia, a nurse who volunteered in Mexico City’s ER. She spent her life helping raise her siblings, going to church, and helping people less fortunate than herself. I truly believe she was his angel. She taught him how to read, write, but most importantly, she taught him that family was love. Family was dinner together, it was celebrating birthday parties, it was shared memories.
They married in 1977.
In 1978, they illegally immigrated to Chicago. Neither of them spoke English, but my father managed to find a job. While in Chicago, my mother went into labor with my eldest sister. A Caucasian woman helped my mother to the hospital. Despite the language barrier, both women welcomed my sister into the world. It is clear that acts of compassion don’t need subtitles. My mother honored the woman’s kindness by naming my eldest sister after her. Lizbeth.
In 1979, they moved to Houston.
In 1981, my parents pawned everything they owned in order to open their first Taqueria. My father would tell us the story of how he asked his first customer to pay in advance so that he could run across the street and buy more food to cook. That’s one of my favorites. From then on the Taqueria was a success! My father called my grandparents and told them to come to Houston and bring his brothers.
Under my father’s leadership, the Camarena family opened a second Taqueria. Later, as my uncles began to marry, my father vetted, negotiated, and even financed their businesses. By the early 90s, my parents had managed to create a lifestyle for my father’s family and for us. Life was almost perfect.
It wasn’t until 2001 that my parents became US residents. In 2006, they finally became citizens of the United States of America. I remember the day my parents became citizens. My father cried for the second time in his life, hugged my mother, and told us, “we made it, we finally made it”.
My sisters and I have been brought up with remarkable stories of struggles and triumphs. We have been brought up with an unwavering commitment to fight and hard work. Even though we were fortunate enough to be born American citizens. We have been marked by the story of their perseverance. My father’s resilience and my mother’s compassion have defined who we are and how we will continue to serve others.