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Achieving the American Dream
An Excerpt from Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude, by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons
Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.
— Emily Dickinson
José Ayllon, a native of Toluca, México, grew up the second to youngest of 10 children. To support his children, José’s dad went to the United States to work and send money back. At 14, José moved six hours away to live with an elder sibling in Guanajato. He was seeking independence and tried to juggle high school and working full-time. It didn’t work, and José ended up dropping out of school.
Two years later, his father phoned asking his son to move to the United States. So at 16, José and two of his older sisters joined their father in Pennsylvania.
“The plan was to work together for a few months and save some money so my mom and little brother could come here as well so we could all live together,” says José. “When I was making my decision about coming to the U.S., I thought about everything except the language barrier. Not knowing the language made things extremely difficult for me. I could not find a job, because most of the jobs I applied for required some level of English.”
His father kept urging José to return to school. But José had other plans, and instead went to work at a mushroom farm, working every day from 4:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
His dad persisted on the education campaign front. “My dad did not seem very happy with my decision and kept encouraging me to go to school,” José says.
Sadly, about four months after José and his sisters moved in with their father, their dad was critically injured in a car accident and died two weeks later.
“My life lost direction when that happened,” José says. “I had no idea where to start and how to start. We ended up going back to Mexico to bury my dad. Once the family gathered together, we decided to come back to the U.S. with my mom, my younger brother, two of my older brothers and their families, and two of my sisters.”
Back in the U.S., José heeded his father’s advice and started high school as a sophomore.
“I knew that learning the language was going to be one of the biggest challenges. I was very lucky to have excellent teachers of English as a second language. They were always encouraging me to perform to the best of my ability. Thanks to their help and with a lot of hard work, within a year I had learned the language.”
José’s teachers encouraged him to become part of a leadership group representing his high school. José and a team of four students attended a conference in Pennsylvania, with the challenge to create a plan for their community. The group decided to focus on improving culture awareness. Despite his struggle with the English language, José came up with the project’s title: P.E.A.C.E. UNION, which stands for “people enthusiastic about cultural equality.”
The project focused on creating language exchange classes, which the team called “Intercambio classes.”
The group held the classes once a week after school for the large Spanish-speaking population. “Our project was a huge success,” José enthuses. “Within a few months we decided to extend the program to our community in general. Once again, in our community it proved to be a success as well and is still in place today. This wonderful project won us first place statewide. That program really made a difference in my life. I suddenly realized that when you really want something and you work to achieve it, anything is possible.”