Pobre pero honrado

That’s the thing about Mexicans. They have a different standard for measuring success. For as long as I can remember, Mexicans take great pride in being hard workers. Nothing else matters to them. And that’s why they’re destined to remain in the ranks of the middle class. Pobre, pero honrado means poor but honorable. So as long as a Mexican works hard, he or she is respected and nothing else matters. Through hard work, a Mexican will never starve to death. He or she may never get ahead in life, but at least these Mexicans are honorable. If they have two or three jobs just to feed and house la familia, so much the better. Whenever I met a Mexican girlfriend’s parents, they would be impressed by the fact that I had a good-paying factory job. They liked the fact that I was hard worker. However, I learned early in life that if my girlfriend’s parents liked me, that was the kiss of death for our relationship.

The greatest compliment you could pay to my father was: You’re such a great worker! Every time someone told him that at work, he would be sure to tell us as soon as he got home. My mother was also proud to be called a hard worker. In fact, she never rested. She worked a full-time job in a factory and then she would come home and work around the house. When my father came home, he would rest because he already did his work for the day. My mother would then call my father lazy and he would feel insulted. Saturday mornings, no one slept in. My mother believed that Saturday mornings were meant for everyone to sleep in until seven in the morning and then wake up to work around the house. Something always needed cleaning or fixing around the house. We couldn’t see our friends until every last chore my mother assigned us was done. She didn’t want anyone talking about how she had raised lazy children.

Growing up, I loved to read. I could read for hours everyday. This really bothered my mother because I would just be lying around the house doing nothing. What would her friends say if they came over now and saw me doing nothing? She was so embarrassed to have such a lazy son! All through high school, she insisted that I find a job after school. But no one would hire me because I looked like I was about twelve years old. My mother wanted to take me to different stores to find me a job. I told her that no one would hire me if I applied for a job with my mother. So she left me alone for a while.

When I was seventeen she found me a job in a peanut butter factory. You had to be eighteen to work in a factory according to federal labor laws, but the company made an exception for me. You should have seen my mother’s face glow whenever she told someone that I had a full-time factory job. She was so proud of me! Especially, since I earned more money than her. Unfortunately, I was still a junior in high school at the time and I had to work the midnight shift. I’d come home from work and immediately change clothes so I could go to school. I often fell asleep in my classes.

Finally, I told my mother that I couldn’t do both–work full time and go to school full time. She was so disappointed in me! I told her I wanted to quit my job so I could graduate from high school. She told me that if I quit my job, I couldn’t live with her anymore. I tried to do both for as long as I could, but I eventually dropped out of school. My mother was happy that I decided to keep my job. I would be pobre, pero honrado the rest of my life and that suited her just fine. She couldn’t understand why I would want to go to school. If I graduated high school, I would probably want to go to college. I couldn’t understand my mother’s point of view: Why pay to go to college when the factory will pay me to work for them? It was as simple as that, but I just didn’t get it back then. I still don’t.

Looking back on all this after so many years, I’m actually not at all bitter about having to work in the factory for twelve years and not going to college until much later in life. When I compare myself to some of my friends, I find that we’re all in about the same place in life. I now fully understand the value of working hard and being pobre, pero honrado. Actually, I’m quite happy with my life now. 🙂

I couldn't be president. I already have three jobs!