Gonzalez, middle, with his father and mother.

Gonzalez, far right, and his father with Sisters Loretta and Sarah Rose, who taught Gonzalez English







Gonzalez, far right, with Northwestern friends in downtown Evanston.

When I was a child, my grandparents' house in Monterrey, Mexico, was one of my favorite places. I remember the large family parties in the back patio, where my uncles played dominoes and my aunts caught up on family news after serving steaks the men had grilled. My cousins and I ran around playing tag or hide-and-seek. At the end of the night my abuelito, or grandfather, gave me candy money for good behavior. My dad always took the money and said he was saving it for me, but the truth is I never saw it again. Instead he used it to buy us food.

To improve our family's economic situation, my father left home for the United States in 1986 just before I turned 7 and only a year after my little brother was born.

The original plan to have my dad return in six months was broken by promises of greater riches. After two years and many Sunday telephone calls later, my parents decided we should join my father in Chicago. My mother yearned to hold her husband in her arms again and finally to be able to give up her double duties as mother and father. My brother would no longer call random strangers "Papá." I would finally get to see the man who, when I was very little, had held my hand as we crossed Monterrey's giant Avenida Colón, the same man whom I had kissed from the arm of a fuzzy, brown sofa before he left for work.

So my mother, brother and I flew to the United States. Just before we landed, I looked out the airplane window and saw what seemed like a trillion twinkling lights below. In between my mother's attempts to pacify my 3-year-old brother sitting between us, I asked her questions. "How many people live in Chicago? How tall are the buildings?" She could only tell me what my father had said over the telephone. He had described brand-new cars riding on clean city streets in the summer and children playing in snow-covered playgrounds. I found it hard to believe.

Almost immediately my parents enrolled me at St. Cyprian School in the suburb of River Grove. So one day I timidly walked into a fourth-grade classroom full of Anglo kids and one Puerto Rican, whom I soon discovered knew virtually no Spanish. They all stared at me as Mrs. Bechtol explained who I was in a language I thought I would never master. Through her I learned my classmates' names, what subjects I was taking and the names of two 70-plus-year-old nuns who would teach me English.

Sitting in class but understanding little, I took only math, spelling, and English at first with the other kids. I spent the rest of the day in the library with Sister Loretta and Sister Sarah Rose. Pictorial representations of words on flashcards helped me to sound out the names of objects. From there I began to learn how to read and speak.

But no matter how much I studied, I never fully caught what was said in those early days. One morning the sisters asked me something, and only half comprehending the question, I shook my head and answered no. That disturbed the nuns immensely, and with a worried look, Sister Loretta sent Sister Sarah Rose upstairs.

At noon I went to my locker like everyone else to get my lunch. On my way out the door I passed the two sisters standing at the threshold of the library holding a brown paper bag. Thinking I had told them I hadn't brought a lunch, they had made me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We laughed then, but because of the two nuns' patience and dedication I was able to fully join my English-speaking friends in the regular curriculum within a year.

As our family settled in, it became clear that even in the United States, my parents would hardly live a life of ease. My father dropped me off at school in his '79 Dodge, his first American car, and I knew I would see him driving up again after school. He had time to do this because he was a busboy working the evening hours at an Italian restaurant. Still, we soon realized that the money from this one job was not enough to support an entire family, so he took a second job in the morning as a delivery driver at a pasta shop.

There were months when I would not see my father for more than two hours a day, the hour he took me to school and the hour he picked me up, ate, took a short nap and readied himself to go to his second job. To be truthful this torturous schedule generated conflicting emotions in me. On the one hand I resented that he couldn't give me any time for something as simple as going to a movie. At the same time I loved him and my mother — who always made sure that I and later my brother went to school with breakfast in our stomachs and lunch in a paper bag — for the sacrifices they were making.

Soon I will be a Northwestern alumnus, having achieved my goal of receiving a premier education. In so doing I realize I am fulfilling my parents' aspirations as well. Because of them I look forward to a promising career, continuing my education in the workplace and perhaps in graduate school.

To make my life as a student easier, my parents gave much of their resources and free time (weekly 40-minute drives to and from campus to deliver food and other provisions are only the beginning). But looking beyond the tangible contributions, I can't imagine the past four years without their encouragement ... and their love.

Now more than ever I can appreciate my parents' desire to provide us with more than the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. By introducing the rest of his family to a new world, my father reunited us and gave us the future, a gift sweeter than any candy that money can buy.

José Gonzalez, a Weinberg senior, graduates this June. Northwestern Perspective, the former alumni magazine, featured Gonzalez in a story about New Student Week (winter 1998) when he was a first-year student.