July Fourth always reminds me how much my parents sacrificed for their pursuit of the American Dream. In 1960, at the age of 32, with a rank of Inspector in his country’s federal police force, my Dad finally received his visa to the United States after an eight-year wait. When he originally applied he was single, and just beginning his law enforcement career. By the time the U.S. Embassy notified him of his approved visa, he was a nine-year veteran of the force, with a wife and three kids.
I was barely one-year-old when he began his journey of the American Dream. Arriving alone in NYC, ahead of the family in order to establish himself, he toughed it out for nearly a year. He bounced from one unskilled job to another. While his U.S. Sponsor had promised him a place to live temporarily, he had not guaranteed my Dad a livelihood.
With no references, and poor language skills, opportunities were slim. He wrote my Mom back in Santiago, Chile, to let her know that the streets in the U.S. were not, as they had imagined, paved in gold. He was ready to throw in the towel. My Mom, a tenured University of Santiago professor, urged him to contact a former schoolmate of hers that had settled in Chicago.
He did, and a few weeks later boarded a Greyhound to the Windy City. My Mom’s friend helped him land a janitorial job at St. Procopius College. He moved in with the caretaker and started collecting a weekly paycheck. A few months later, by happenstance, he met Dr. Serna, the pathologist at Edward Hospital. Dr. Serna hired him as a lab tech. He moved into a room at the Naperville YMCA. A few months later he had saved enough to relocate to a first floor flat near Washington and Hillside, cutting a few more blocks off his pedestrian commute.
Just seven months after Dad’s arriving in Illinois, my Mom and we three kids flew to Miami and made the drive to our new home in Naperville. Mom found work in the hospital’s kitchen, but was soon “discovered” by a Dean at North Central College who hired her as a Spanish Professor. One year later they bought their first home in Naperville: a three bedroom ranch located in the East Highlands.
My parents raised two sons who both served in the US Navy, and two daughters that raised successful families of their own. They took particular pride on July Fourth, knowing they had made the right decision uprooting their lives for the American Dream.
Sitting in my backyard, enjoying a warm breeze and a cold Old Style, I understand why my Dad’s favorite holiday was July Fourth. It’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on the good fortune we all have of living in this great country.