Jose Villareal: How I became an American – an immigrant’s story

Given the present public discourse on immigration, let me present a perspective on immigration from an immigrant’s point of view.

I was born and raised in Mexico. I immigrated to this country at age 8. Years later, I became a naturalized citizen. That makes me a legal immigrant or a documented worker. Sergio Romo, one of the San Francisco Giants’ pitchers wore a T-shirt that read, “I just look illegal.”

Part of my immigrant story consists of having lived and gone to school in great cities such as San Antonio, Texas; South Chicago, Ill.; Eagle Pass, Texas; Los Angeles and San Jose.

I attended San Jose State University, University of Santa Clara Law School and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

As an attorney, I became the chief public defender in Fresno County for eight years and later chief public defender of Santa Clara County for 10 years. I retired from Santa Clara County in 2005. Recently I was the mayor of Sanger, but resigned due to health issues.

I have been married almost 50 years to a wonderful wife, have four wonderful children, and seven wonderful grandchildren. These are my credentials.

Want more? I have worked as a farm worker, an adjunct professor at Fresno State, administrator and trainer for California Rural Legal Services Inc. and have been a board member of numerous nonprofit organizations, including Centro La Familia in Fresno.

Even with these credentials, I have been directly and indirectly told, “But you are still a Mexican.”

My story is not unique. There are thousands of even more successful stories. You do not have to go far for examples. Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, a Mexican immigrant, was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and was just approved by the California voters to be an associate justice in the California State Supreme Court for 12 years. History has proven that immigrants like Justice Cuellar have contributed greatly to the development of this country.

I was brought to this country by my parents, who saw this country as a land of opportunity in every respect. As a child, I would go to my father for advice and his response was “Mira, Mijo” or “Look son, you have to realize that life is not just. What you have to do is work hard, ignore the negative and do no harm to anyone, including yourself.”

Those words, along with mere determination, persistence, and strong family support led me to learn how to navigate through an American culture that has been generally welcoming, but selectively harsh with recent immigrants, both undocumented and documented.

I love this country, and have learned to love it even more as I evolved from being a Mexican national to being a Mexican-American, Chicano, Hispanic, Latino, and bottom line, an American. Without question, I love my country of birth, Mexico, but I, along with my immediate family, are here to stay.

The recent election has certainly shown a lack of our understanding of the value of our rights, especially our right to vote. At the same time, in the process of minimally engaging in the election process, we lost sightof the need to be sensitive to the needs of others and even worse, we lost sight of how to be respectful. As a result, we elected some politicians who are only interested in serving themselves rather than serving the good of the public.

Let us not forget that immigrants, undocumented and documented, are simply human beings pursuing happiness by providing for themselves and their families. This is as American as apple pie.

Becoming an American has been a realization of an immigrant’s dream. I am truly an American who is proud of his Mexican heritage. As an American, I intend to continue to engage actively in the political arena where issues such as immigration, water, public safety, education, health and transportation will be considered. I urge you and all other Americans to do the same.