Debunking the Myth
"I lost my father to an unexpected heart-attack 4 months ago. Gone are the dreams of taking my son and going with my dad to teach the little guy how to fish. Or maybe going to see a baseball game together. That can no longer happen.
Thank you Mike for agreeing to be the very first "Bad Hombre" featured! More to come! - RG
TBHP: Describe yourself in three words.
M: Hard-Working. Driven. Happy. (Note: that's 4 but we'll give Mike a pass!)
TBHP: Tell me about where you grew up and what your childhood was like.
M: I am the son of a white father from Los Angeles and of a Latina mother from El Salvador, yet I was born in Indiana where I have spent the majority of my life. I grew up in communities in the late 80s/early 90s in a place where there was little racial diversity, but I always felt like a part of the community. I played soccer, baseball, basketball, loved Ninja Turtles, playing with legos and video games. As many kids around me had similar interests, I never felt like I had problems making friends. I look back at my childhood and feel that I was genuinely a happy kid.
However, I do think there was another element to my childhood. My mother at home would speak Spanish to me, but since my father did not speak it and very few around me did, I saw no purpose for knowing another language. If my mom would speak Spanish to me in a public place, I felt embarrassed as others would look at us (at least I felt) as like something was rather strange. I would tell my mom to speak in English. It wasn't until about 1995 or 1996 when a "big wave" of Latinos migrated to my small southern Indiana hometown, that I began to think it was ok to speak another language and have a different heritage. By the time I got to high school was the first time I think I thought to myself "I'm Latino" and having this background was a good thing.
TBHP: Did you like school?
M: I loved going to school. I really enjoyed learning and getting good grades. I remember how excited I was to start 2nd grade especially, because we were going to learn how to write in cursive. Maybe because I always saw my parents, especially my father working hard, I always felt self-motivated to do well.
TBHP: Do you know the story of how your family came into this country?
M: Well, the Spencer side as far as I know came from England around 1700, but I don't know of the rationale for immigrating. My mom on the other hand immigrated from El Salvador in 1969, at the age of 19. I would say she was looking for a fresh start in life. I know she had to go through a lot, not knowing the language, customs, culture or anything and she had to work during the day and take English courses in the evening. She didn't marry my dad until 1981, so for 12 years she had to do hard work and try to adapt to the US society. It's hard to put into words, but this journey didn't come easy for her by any means. Because of her difficult transition, she has always tried to help others who make similar treks. I have learned from her to help wherever I can the immigrant Latino community, because through her I have a very good idea of all the challenges that many face. I very much believe in "loving thy neighbor as thyself", and I always strive to try to create a welcoming community for all.
TBHP: Can you tell me about one of the most difficult moments in your life?
M: The most difficult moment in my life was 4 months ago, when I lost my father to an unexpected heart-attack. He had just gone to see the doctor for his annual checkup, and all seemed to be in order. Then out of the blue, I got this call at work. I instantly felt numb and couldn't even believe the words I was hearing. Gone are the dreams of taking my son (who's 3 right now) and going with my dad to teach the little guy how to fish. Or maybe going to see a baseball game together. That can no longer happen. Now it's up to me to do this, and maintain the legacy of my father. He worked hard his entire life, sometimes in some jobs with very difficult environments and he never complained once about it. Not having him to call and talk about football games or whatever was happening in town, is extremely difficult. I really miss my dad.
TBHP: Can you tell me about one or two people that have been the biggest influence in your life?
M: My dad by far has been the biggest influence in my life. I always remember him when I was a kid and how hard he worked to support his family. I think because I watched him at such a young age, is why no one had to tell me to do my homework. I knew it was my responsibility and I wanted to my schoolwork well. He ran track in high school and I began running in 7th grade. He studied math as an undergrad and so did I. He married a Latina woman and I did as well. Even though my dad didn't speak Spanish, he would sing with my mom in their choir at the Spanish Mass and he would always come running whenever I needed a hand. He was always willing to help. Between him and my mom, I have learned to love to help others in the community.
TBHP: Is being Latino important to you?
M: It is very important. The older I have gotten, the more I've learned about myself, about my Central American family and about Latino culture. Having lived in Mexico for 2.5 years as a young adult, I not only dramatically improved my language skills, but also learned about incredible customs such as "Dia de los Muertos" and "El Grito de la Independencia." I no longer feel like being Latino or speaking another language is something that I should be ashamed of, but rather the very opposite. I'm very proud of my Salvadoran heritage and earlier this year I went to visit my family in San Salvador. They don't look at me like a foreigner, but just like one of their own. Now that I have married a great Mexican woman, my son is now 3/4 Latino and I want him to have this same pride of his ancestry.
TBHP: How would you like to be remembered?
M: I know I still have a lot to do, but hopefully when my time is gone people will think of me as a person who legitimately cared for others and their well being. I hope that people feel that I put a smile on their face and that typically I would carry one on mine. I hope that people feel that I treat them with respect and dignity and simply want others to do the same. I'm no angel and not saying I'm trying to be, but I do like to think that there is more good in this world than bad and I think we should look for ways to make this good rise to the surface.