A man of awesome personality and the winner of my unconditional trust, Raul Gonzalez, my father, made numerous life choices for me when I was younger. He continues to influence my decisions today. He is a man of strong character, a man who intimidates me with just a glance, a man whose incredible humor makes me laugh at the simplest things. I know a lot of people – especially Latino teenagers – who admire their parents for coming to a foreign country and beating the odds, but I also know that none of them can be compared to my dad, my idol.

However, unlike many immigrants who travel to the U.S. for financial necessities, my father arrived to seek adventure. A trailblazer in his own right, he wanted to meet his own extraordinary expectations. He was not satisfied with the opportunities Mexico offered and wanted something different from the traditional life of labor his family led.  At age 14, he started his journey to this country with the idea that his first goal would be to enroll in school and learn English. He was in for a shock, though, because his uncles told him they needed him to work.  Since he lived under their roof, he didn’t have an option.

Undeterred, he found resources to teach himself the confusing language of America by listening to the radio, watching television, and reading Dr. Seuss books. He can speak and read English passably but sometimes needs help with various complexities of the language.  As a child I remember going to the bank, where my dad was served by a non-Spanish speaking employee who made incorrect transactions due to the language challenges.  It was difficult for me to watch my father become frustrated. But occurrences such as this never stopped him from helping his non-English speaking friends set up their own bank accounts or file their taxes. Also, when we used to go out to eat, the servers so misunderstood my dad’s English that he often received the wrong food order.  He continued to practice English, and always took initiative in any project in our community.  Undaunted.  The man is undaunted.

He continues to learn, thereby teaching me that nothing is impossible as long as I am willing to work for it. When I first began to write, he made me practice and practice until my work came close to perfection. When I brought home a report card with all A’s and one B, he gave me little praise for the A’s and instead concentrated on the one B.  “If you got A’s in everything else, what’s this B doing here?”  he would ask.  His pushing me harder worked. In my favor, I am now the Salutatorian of my senior class.

He became a resident of the U.S. under Amnesty 86. Soon after his papers were in order, he freely traveled back and forth from the U.S. to Mexico, married my mom, and brought her to the U.S. to begin their life in this country. He worked two jobs, day and night shifts. My mom tells stories about the tears I shed because we rarely saw him. I don’t remember this time of our lives vividly, but I understand now that his exhausting efforts kept food on our table.

My father’s style of raising his kids was . . . well, unique. I remember him telling me to never hold my little brother’s hand when we crossed the street, to only cross the road when it was heavy with traffic, to hop right into strangers’ cars, and take anything I wanted that was not mine.  This seemingly bizarre raising of his children is cultural, his use of reverse psychology.  He would have never allowed any harm come to happen to me, nor would he have truly allowed me to steal, but his reasoning was that I would figure out myself what made sense and what didn’t.  To this day I continue to use this manner of rationalization when making decisions.

He has faced so many problems that hindered him from doing what he desired, yet he never fails to achieve what he sets out to do. I firmly believe that is why he has always been such an influential person in my life. I recall living in a small apartment and seeing him cry because he did not have enough money to pay the rent and buy Christmas presents. Still, it did not take him long to find a temporary solution. He became a member of SAM’s Club and started buying huge boxes of candy.  My brothers and I would then sell the candy and make a profit, money which would then be used for our basic needs.  I have to admit that it felt cool being known as the neighborhood candy supplier at age eight.

When I was younger, I was so full of energy, always very competitive, and I could not cope with a loss.  This flaw in me sometimes caused me to bully other little kids.  In an effort to remedy this problem, my father signed me up for boxing. After the first week of training my dad asked the coach to throw me into the ring for a real fight, certain that I would endure a whooping. To everyone’s shock I actually won the match. My dad had found an outlet for my energy and competitiveness.  With his encouragement, I continued boxing and have fought in World Championship tournaments.

I am well-rounded, excelling in sports, academics and leadership roles, but my dad insists I do these things well in two languages: English and Spanish. This way of thinking, ironically, has led to much improvement in our lives. But it’s funny my dad is my number one fan; he is also my biggest critic.

Because of my dad, I have the mentality to change what I don’t like, and if I can’t change it, I can change the way I think about it. I love my father…I love my hero.