An Immigrant Father’s Second Lifeline
By Luis F. Sotelo, Vice President, Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Doane University
The motorcycle traveled confidently towards the sunset, unsettling a haze of dirt above the farm fields in the outskirts of Bishop, California, nestled between the majesty of the Sierra Nevada and White Mountains and home to numerous western films. Visibility was poor pero mi papá (but my dad), an immigrant farm hand, knew this route well and could probably close his eyes and still arrive safely.
He relied on the routine of the work and a few landmarks, his instinct and love of riding to speed between fields, checking on irrigation pipes. The last time he traveled this path had been a few weeks ago. With the sun in his eyes, it happened too fast. It was too late to register the newly-placed wire fencing racing in his direction.
“Caí como acá” (I fell around here),” he remembers, pointing beyond the rusting fence during the tour I took with my parents in September 2019 to the farm they lived at in the early 1980’s as migrant farm workers. Dad shares how the barbed wire cut through his body and face, leaving him unrecognizable but with a strong will to live and overcome. The adrenaline lifted him back onto the motorcycle. He struggled to turn his lifeline on as the piercing pain tested his persistence.
How he made it back to the farmhouse is a struggle for him to explain because each passing minute challenged his consciousness. Dad was flown immediately to Reno, Nevada where he started his slow recovery, a second opportunity at life. Since then, he has passionately dedicated himself to providing opportunities for others–family and community.
From the fields in California to the meatpacking floors in Nebraska, Dad has contributed to keeping our nation fed and moving forward. Past retirement age and throughout the pandemic, Dad continues to work at a meatpacking plant cutting up cows. All of my life I have seen him–alongside Mom–make sacrifice after sacrifice so that others can succeed, so that others can reach their potential. He brought my family and me to this country in 1995 so that we “could be somebody in life” and for that I will forever be thankful.
This Father’s Day and National Immigrant Heritage Month, I celebrate my father as my hero. While I fall short some days, I seek to follow what I’ve learned from him–to be service-oriented, courageous, resilient, and humble. He taught me that we must treat everyone with dignity and that problem solving even when things get tough is important; giving up is not an option.
I celebrate your fathers and our Doane University students and colleagues who are fathers and father-figures, giving of themselves daily to build stronger futures for their children and our communities. I understand the privilege I experience having my dad next to me and honor the memory of fathers who are no longer with us. I also acknowledge this holiday can be difficult for families with living, but absent fathers.
I will be celebrating today with Dad, never forgetting how lucky I am to have him in life, as my hero who received a second opportunity.
The blog posts in Forward. Together. are intended to foster an inclusive community of empathy and curiosity at Doane University by providing a glimpse into various individual identities and worldviews. These are community members’ unique stories and should not be presumed to be the experience of all who share the same identity.