No question, the lunches my mom made marked me as a different kind of kid in grade school. I’d open my Gene Autry lunch box and surreptitiously lift out the sandwich my mom had lovingly packed. The aroma of eggplant parmigiana was a dead giveaway.
My parents were born in Italy, but they wanted their four children to be red, white and blue Americans. As much as they tried to conform to the strange language, customs and traditions of their adopted country, they drew the line at food. But there was also something else about our culture that stood out. Hardly a day went by without my dad telling me, “We left the old country so you kids would have the opportunities we didn’t have.”
During the Great Depression, my dad had to leave high school after only two years because he had the only job in the family. Maybe that’s why his greatest pleasure was his kids’ educational accomplishments. The happiest day of my dad’s life had to be the day my brother Frank graduated from law school. I will never forget Dad’s look of pride at that moment.
These thoughts were rekindled for me recently when I read the personal essays of the Orange High School students who applied to become Simon STEM scholars, a scholarship made possible by Ron and Sandy Simon and other generous people who provide a highly regarded mentoring program in high school as well as full tuition and room and board at Chapman University.
Here’s how Angel Diaz concludes his essay:
“My parents saw that there was much more opportunity for their children if they came to America. Leaving Mexico, and all that tied them to it, was not easy. But they made the sacrifices for their children. I love my parents for many reasons, but I love them most because of this. And I can think of no better way to repay them for their self-sacrifice than to take advantage of the opportunity before me now.”
Even though his parents came from Mexico while mine from Italy, I share similar thoughts with Angel. Our parents left their native countries so that we could have the opportunities they didn’t have. We live in a great country. Regrettably, we often forget why it’s great. Angel and the other Simon scholars remind us.