By Avery Palshaw
When José Ponce immigrated to the United States from Guadalajara, Jalisco, México, he settled in Big Sur, California, and began building a life for himself as a dishwasher. He then met Martha Curiel, who was working as a housekeeper and came from Guadalajara. The two began working at a restaurant together.
Though it was challenging for him to send money to his family in México while having to pay rent, the newly arrived immigrant worked his way up in the restaurant industry, being promoted from dishwasher to server to bartender to manager. Today, Ponce works as manager of Nepenthe and Café Kevah alongside his wife and two daughters.
Like José’s daughter, senior Sarah Ponce Curiel, many Mexican American students at Carmel High School with high academic goals commend their parents for instilling in them a strong work ethic and a motivation to succeed with the opportunities given to them.
Junior Daisyre Dueñas Paz described her parents’ contrasting experiences immigrating to the United States from Querétaro, México. Although they both came to the U.S. as teenagers, Dueñas Paz’s father already had family in the United States to assist him in finding work, whereas her mother struggled significantly because she had to build a life for herself without much help and only a middle school education.
Because Dueñas Paz’s parents didn’t complete their education, she feels driven to excel in school and to go to college.
“My mom has always told my sisters and me that education is the most valuable thing one can have in their life since she didn’t get to have one,” said Dueñas Paz, who was recently selected for the Tyler Fellowship, an academic scholarship given to only two students at Carmel High School each year.
A number of Carmel High School children of Mexican immigrants grew up in Big Sur and attended Captain Cooper Elementary School. Some admit that the change from elementary school to middle school was tough because Captain Cooper has a large Hispanic population, whereas Carmel Middle School has a more mixed demographic.
Many children of immigrants at Carmel High School also say they feel fortunate to have been able to attend such a high-caliber school and receive a good education because many of their parents didn’t have the ability to do so.
“Going to Carmel, I see how privileged we really are, especially in comparison to other schools,” said junior Carlos Mora Plascencia, whose parents immigrated from Guadalajara, Jalisco, “so I appreciate how hard my parents have worked to live in this area and send me to this school.”
Mora Plascencia’s parents immigrated at separate times, both speaking little English. His mother came to the United States with her father as a teenager and was able to complete high school, though she struggled because few of her peers spoke Spanish and those who did had to translate for her. His father spoke no English when he first immigrated, making it difficult for him to find work. Mora Plascencia said that his father’s immense work ethic has inspired him to be more motivated as a student so that he can make him proud.
Outside of opportunities regarding school, these students are thankful to have support and encouragement behind their personal interests from their parents.
For sophomore Alejandro Martínez-Reséndiz, being taught the fundamentals of soccer from an early age by his father has allowed for him to dominate the sport at a higher level.
Alejandro’s parents, José Martínez Paz and Silvia Reséndiz, immigrants from Querétaro, México, have sacrificed a lot to allow him to play soccer for MLS NEXT, a distinguished youth soccer league. Martínez-Reséndiz admires his parents for making an effort to drive him to his practices in San José multiple times a week and is motivated to do well in his sport in return.
Because many children of Mexican American immigrants have witnessed their parents’ hard work and determination to provide a better life for their families, they express the need to give back to their parents, whether that be through working hard in school or contributing to their family’s income.
Ponce Curiel, for instance, began working with her father and mother at 14 to assist them in sending money to their relatives in Mexico.
“They do so much, and they’ve been through so much, so I feel like I need to do as much as I can to help them out, but it’s hard sometimes to juggle both school and work,” Ponce Curiel explained.
Several students have been able to visit their family members in México, which has provided them with a sense of pride in seeing where their parents came from and an understanding of how different their lifestyles are. Dueñas Paz grew up going to México every summer, visiting both sides of her family for two months at a time.
“It made me appreciate what I have more because they don’t have that in México,” Dueñas Paz said. “Visiting has given me a whole different perspective on life and has made me much more grateful.”
Although Ponce Curiel’s parents never went to México with her, she and her sister have visited their grandparents, allowing her to gain an understanding of how her parents grew up.
“Seeing how many people struggle in México and how dangerous it can be makes me feel grateful for what I have in America and the sacrifices my parents made coming over here,” she said.
Because of Ponce’s position as manager at Nepenthe and Café Kevah, he no longer has to work seven days a week to support himself, yet he chooses to in order to send extra money to his family in Guadalajara.
The dedicated work ethic of their parents has motivated these students to go to four-year colleges. Dueñas Paz intends to become a veterinarian, and Ponce Curiel wants to pursue a career in nursing, as her father has always encouraged her to help as many people as possible.
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