Member Spotlight: Rogelio
We often say DSA is a “big tent”. It’s true that we all come from different backgrounds, but every one of our unique experiences has brought us to the same conclusion: A better world is possible, and it is ours to build. The following is the first in a series of stories told by our members about the events and experiences that led them to the Left.
My parents met as teenagers picking turnips in Indiana after they left Mexico. By the time my sister and I came along, my mother had advanced to working as a housekeeper for a well-off family in Buckhead, earning $200 a week. Despite her hard work to get ahead, we still relied on aid from others, especially our Catholic church in Chamblee. One of the nuns made sure we always received the gifts we wanted at Christmas time. She loved my sister and I as if we were her own – I think because of everything my mother did for the church.
My mother did a lot for all of us. One day when I was six years old, I was getting off the bus at the house where my mother worked as a housekeeper (we used their address because the schools there were better), and she announced to me, “Rogelio, from now on, you will go by Roger.” For my mother, she was doing me a favor. She felt she was giving me a chance at a better life in America. So why did it feel like something was being taken from me?
As I got older, I grew more rebellious. I wouldn’t indulge my mother’s religious beliefs, for one. Finally, one day walking out of Sunday School, I turned to my mother and said, “No way Jesus was in a tomb for three days. That was a lie.” (Now that I’m an adult, though, I burn prayer candles and wear a small silver crucifix. I don’t believe in a god, but I believe in my mom and everything she’s given me.)
That’s the way my mom is – always doing things for me that I didn’t ask for. In middle school I had finally found a sense of community in my all-black public school. Then, my mother pulled me out and sent me to an all-white private academy where she had fought tooth and nail to win me a scholarship. I was livid. The kids there called me a dirty Mexican. The first time I heard the word “spic” was at this “gifted” academy. I felt completely alienated in a sea of all white faces. The hostility didn’t stop with the students. One time, someone’s lacrosse stick went missing and my teacher suggested to the student, “Maybe you should check Roger’s locker.” It felt like the world was against me. My mother had fought so hard to give me this life, but it felt like she was subjecting me to a terrible fate.
As an adult now, the things my mother fought for make more sense. My sister succeeded in obtaining her Master’s, and now she has a job with APS, where, like our mother did as a volunteer, she has devoted herself to serving the needs of low income POC communities. My sister, to name just one of her successes, pushed for legislation that provides bilingual report cards to better serve Latinx families. I’m trying to do my part to repay my mother, too – last year, I spent my life savings on a house for myself, my mother and my sister in the West End.
We will never leave my mother’s side. After more than 30 years in the US, there is still no path to citizenship for her, despite her pristine record and everything she has done for us, her community, and the countless others she’s helped. She lives in the shadows, watching opportunities pass her by that she cannot take due to her status. I even have nightmares about ICE barging into our home and taking her.
Thankfully, my mom is a powerful woman. She created paths for both my sister and I to go to college in a system designed to throw up roadblocks at every turn. She fought like hell to make sure we would succeed. I have no clue how she has managed this, but she is a superwoman, and I’m proud to be her Latinx son.
So, if you see me these days, please don’t call me Roger. I am Rogelio. Let’s get together sometime! I’ll show you a few things about being Latinx that make me proud. If you’re lucky, I’ll even cook you some of my mother’s favorite recipes.