Forging a New Path

For Jose Rivas, the immigration story is all about his parents.

Jose Rivas’ immigration story begins before he was born in 1987. It was in the mid 80s that first his father—and later his mother—made the decision to immigrate to the United States from El Salvador.

“My parents were only teenagers,” Rivas says. “They met in El Salvador and fell in love, but Dad decided to come here.” He was in search of a better life for his family, but in a time when communications weren’t instant or easy, maintaining the relationship with Jose’s future mother was difficult. Still, they persevered, sending letters as often as they could, and enjoying telephone conversations every few months.

“Nowadays it’s not that hard to stay in touch with people you love, but then, my mom was just happy to receive a picture in the mail,” Rivas says.

Since his father already had family in the United States and the opportunities were far greater, his mother saved everything she could and eventually followed him about a year later, crossing the border.

“The thing people don’t realize, when crossing the border, is that you don’t know if you’ll come out alive,” Rivas says.

Growing up, he says, certain things stood out. The difficulties his parents faced not speaking English were significant. Another, he says, is that his father didn’t have a car, so he had to ride a bike to a train station, then catch a train to get to work every day.

But perhaps what shaped his childhood memories the most was that his parents realized quickly that they couldn’t support a child and build the life they wanted to give him at the same time — his mother was staying home with him, but needed to be able to work to help save. So they sent him back to El Salvador to live with relatives between the ages of 2-4.

He notes that although he’s 33 years old now, that time with his Aunt and Uncle was something he never forgot. While he respects and has a close relationship with his parents now, he notes that returning to them was a hard transition to make at the time. Especially since, in the meantime, his parents had had another child, so not only was he walking off the plane to new guardians, he also had a new sibling he didn’t know anything about.

“That was a big scare for me [when I was returned to them],” says Rivas. “I thought my Aunt and Uncle were my parents. All those years you grow up and start recognizing people, and then another Aunt picks me up and puts me on a plane back to the United States. I saw them, and was told these are my parents, and it was a huge shock.”

A Strong Work Ethic

One of the things his parents’ story instilled in Rivas is a strong work ethic, and a willingness to do what it takes to get the job done. He doesn’t shy away from hard work. “They taught me to work hard, to learn the value of a dollar,” he notes. “That keeps me motivated.”

The result is that he is taking advantage of the opportunity his parents made sacrifices to provide for him.

Today, he is a system technician working on electronics such as alarms, intercoms, cameras, security, and more.

“My dad taught me to be the hardest worker in the room,” he says. And that is something he hopes to instill in the next generation as well. His wife is from the Dominican Republic, and his first daughter was born in August of last year.

“When I look at my daughter, I look at myself, and remember all the things my parents did for me growing up, every little detail. I want to be even better, so my daughter can be better, and then her kids can be better.” That said, he also learned from his parents that family is just as important as hard work, and he doesn’t sacrifice time with his wife and daughter, making sure to give them his time as well and strike the right balance.

To this day, one of the driving forces motivating Rivas is the desire to make his parents proud, and show them that the sacrifices they made weren’t in vain. There are still hardships, still racism and language difficulties, but “I can’t listen to that,” he says. “People will always talk negative, you don’t have to listen — that’s the attitude of my parents. My Dad especially — he didn’t let those comments hit him, he knows where his head is at, and he told me to set goals and follow them, and that’s what I did.”

Looking ahead, he hopes to one day have his own security business, and while his family is renting an apartment, he hopes to have enough saved for a house soon. He also hopes there are a few more kids in the cards as well. “I love kids. I don’t care if they wake me up in the middle of the night — that’s what I’m inspired to do.”

To get there, in addition to continuing to work and gain experience and connections, Rivas is also working on national certifications and learning everything he can about as much as he can to make himself more valuable as a contractor. “There is always new technology out there, and I have to keep up,” he says. “I don’t want to lose customers because I’m not keeping up.”

Rivas is the perfect example of the immigration experience, and how it can help multiple generations build a better life.

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