Javier Patiño was born in Sanger, California. So, how is he an immigrant? Well, this brings up interesting element about immigration. While he was infant, his parents returned to their native Mexico. They settled in Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, where they rejoined the family business, Pollos Patiño. The small operation raised and distributed chickens throughout the western region of the country. Business was modest but allowed for the Patiños to have their own home and met the family needs.
Javier learned to crawl, walk and talk in Mexico. His first years of life were the Mexican way. Christmas began with posadas and mariachi. He received presents on Día de Los Reyes Magos (The Three Wise Men). Like any child his age, he didn’t have an understanding about his legal status. He was simply Mexican. Of course, by birthright, he is a United States citizen.
“One day, men came to our property, demanding payment. This was a shake-down,” Javier recounts. “We were not rich and so dad and grandpa could not give the masked men what they demanded. Still, they made off with a truck and chickens. One shot grandfather in the leg, while an uncle got a bullet through an ankle. This made my parents decide to return to the US.”
Javier, his two sisters and parents went north and resettled in Sanger. The family moved into the extra room at Javier’s maternal grandmother’s. He was six years old and now old enough to recognize the different from one country to another.
“Life was immediately perplexing, here,” Javier remembers. “We came for a better life but in Morelia, we had our own home and we had space for everyone. At grandma’s, we were crammed. Mom and dad had one bed. Next to it was another bed upon which we took turns sleeping. One night, one of us kids would sleep in it while the other two took a place on the floor. This went on for two years.”
In addition to the contrived arrangements at home, Mr. Patiño no longer was an entrepreneur as he was in Mexico. Instead, he worked in the fields, waking up hours before the sun rose and coming home late. This hardly seemed like a better life, to young Javier. The boy, himself, encountered his own challenges. At school, he was the new arrival from Mexico. No one recognized him as American. How could anyone see him otherwise. He spoke Spanish but no English. He knew nothing about Thanksgiving, wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, or the Fourth of July.
During our interview, Javier and I discussed that one can be a citizen of this country, but feel like an immigrant, at the same time. In a new community when one is foreign to its social and cultural customs, one’s legal status does little to make one immediately fit in. “I didn’t feel American,” asserts Javier. Indeed, Javier was a foreigner in his native country. As is the case for any immigrant who’s a new arrival, he had a long learning curve ahead of him. Fortunately, he had help.
“Mrs. Leal saved me,” says Javier of his first grade teacher, “She helped me assimilate. She made such a difference that even now, when either one of my family members run into her around town, an animated conversation ensues. She always remembers me and I’m always thankful for the difference that she made in my early life.” Javier enjoyed school and excelled as he learned English. Second grade was easier. Home life improved, too. Javier’s father still worked in the fields but after two years of the family living in grandma’s extra room, Mr. Patiño was able to move the family to a three-bedroom house. Javier had his own room, while his sisters shared another.
Before fourth grade, Javier tested high enough to be admitted into the new charter school, Sanger Academy. Even at this early age, he began to recognize that school is a place for gaining an education beyond simply learning class assignments. By the time Javier reached high school, he had a deeper purpose. He joined school government, leadership program and sports. These activities gave him structure. He made honor roll and began to consider college. In addition, he separated from friends who did not fit the vision of his future. Still, there were certain times when father knew best. Mr. Patiño would forbid him from going out with teenagers whom father considered suspicious in character.
“There were times when I was angry at my dad. I was a good kid and didn’t get in trouble. So, it seemed unfair that he’d make such boundaries. Then I grew resentful but over time, I realized that how wise he was,” confesses Javier. “Some of those guys are now imprisoned or are quite unstable in other ways,” he says.
Javier lived at home until age twenty-five and until then, he honored his father’s rules. In addition to respect, Javier has a deep appreciation for his father’s hard work and devotion to the family. “He worked in the fields for seven or eight years after we immigrated to the US. All so that we could have a better chance at at life than he did. He left the fields for a job as maintenance at an apartment complex where he still works.”
Javier speaks with a sense of respect, for his father, that I rarely see in sons. “I have never seen him say anything mean to mother. In turn, she has only shown him love.”
When Javier graduated with his bachelor of arts in business management, from Fresno Pacific University. Upon receiving his diploma, he presented it to his father saying, this is yours.
“I truly feel that the diploma belongs to my father. It’s because of him that it came to me. He sacrificed so much for us,” says Javier. He explains that before Mr. Patiño married, his mother urged him to attend college. Mr. Patiño refused in order to continue to help his parents. Then came marriage. Mr. Patiño continued working, this time, for his new family. “Working in the fields is not easy. I could not do it,” says Javier. “Yet, my father did it for many years no matter how hot or cold it was. He gave me the opportunity to have an education.”
In turn, Javier has worked tenaciously in academics, making the dean’s list while in college. After his BA, Javier worked at a finance company, earning $10 an hour. Quickly, he realized that this was a path of minimal opportunity for growth. Soon, he went to work at his alma mater, as an academic adviser for the Alas Program, which helps first generation college students. In addition, he returned to school. This spring, he graduated masters degree, in leadership and organizational studies, from Fresno Pacific University. He’s not stopping there. Javier is applying for a PhD program in organizational change or higher education leadership.
Through the religious based curriculum, at Fresno Pacific University, Javier went further with his Christian faith, which had always been a part of his life. “I didn’t realize the extent of the religious angle that the school’s curriculum weaves into its classes.” Javier explains. For the first, Javier was able to freely discuss and explore his religion. “It wasn’t that I could not beforehand. However, classes and assignments include religious perspectives in economics and other courses, for example,” explains Javier. “The curriculum has done much to clarify and strengthen my faith.”
Finally, I asked Javier how he thinks of himself regarding his experience in Mexico and the US. “I’m American…American-Mexican. I have pride for my parent’s origin. I want to change people’s views of Mexicans. I feel secure about being Mexican. When I’m there, I feel proud of my Mexican history.”
I asked Javier what he believes is the greatest obstacle among the Mexican community. He responded, “Fear hinders the Mexican immigrant…fear of not succeeding. Fear of being recognized for the way we speak or because of our customs. If I had fear about college then I would not be here. What if dad had feared coming here? He crossed the border at age sixteen! In my observation, many Mexican immigrants are fearful of trying hard and failing because if they fail here, then where else can you go? The US is it. Many fear that they cannot have an education, and as such, settle for less. I am forever thankful that my father had the courage to always search for a better life for us.”