Perhaps you remember when the recent story of UC San Diego graduate Jennifer Rocha and her parents first hit the news. Jennifer’s parents, Angelica Maria and Jose Juan Rocha, moved to the US to give their children a better life with more opportunity. With limited job choices, they worked as migrant farmworkers. As their girls grew older, her mom and dad brought them to work alongside them in the fields.
Jennifer explained, “They started taking us so we could learn a lesson about the value of higher education…if you don’t pursue a higher education, this is where you’re going to end up.” The sisters got the message, and today the Rocha’s are the proud parents of three college graduates. Jennifer is working in law enforcement, her dream job, aiming to be the Chief someday. “I wouldn’t have the degree and the diploma if it wasn’t for them. They sacrificed…just to give me and my sisters an education.”
Like so many others, I am immensely impressed. In fact, I haven’t been able to get her out of my head since I first read the article. Her story hit a nerve, and I think there are several reasons why.
It reminds me of my family.
Our lives are different in important ways. Jennifer and her family faced hardships and financial challenges that I have not experienced, but there are similarities.
My parents are immigrants too – my mom from El Salvador and my dad from Poland. Born in El Salvador, I am also an immigrant as my parents adopted me as a baby. Hearing about Jennifer’s parents reminds me of the sacrifices mine made to build a life for themselves, and for me. It reminds me of my extended family on both sides, many who have their own immigrant stories.
My parents taught me the value of education as well. My mom originally came to the U.S. to study. My dad, already a university graduate in Poland, got a second degree from Wayne State in Detroit. Eventually they took a risk together, pursued an idea, and built a successful company from the ground up. They always expected me to study hard, from grade school through college. They modeled hard work and always expected me to give my best effort as well.
I also grew up working alongside my parents and absorbed their work ethic. I saw firsthand the hard work and long hours that starting, and then maintaining and growing a company, involves. I have always had a job at ATR. I pretended to answer the phone as a young child, and then actually answered it when I was in high school. I filed and scanned paper (!) resumes back in the day. After graduation, I joined full time, worked in many roles, and am now responsible for leading the family business into the future (gulp). In very different ways, both Jennifer’s and my career paths were shaped by our “first” jobs.
It reminds me of our business.
ATR is in the business of finding people jobs. We put people to work at companies that need them. Paying attention to why people choose the careers they do is part of doing my job well. It can help me understand the people we work with better and how to help them find the right position. Getting to know our candidates is critical to doing so successfully. What motivates them, their career path, their dream job, their goals – it all matters. Jennifer’s story is a window into one person’s story. I can learn from that and help others.
It reminds me of the inherent dignity of work and workers.
Jennifer specifically calls out our tendency to overlook people like her parents, who work every day doing the most menial and low-paying jobs, as one reason she did the photo shoot, and is happy at the attention it has received.
” I want you to recognize not just them, but also all the other migrant workers that we tend to forget about…When people go to the grocery store, [they] just grab vegetables and food…they don’t think, there are people that are drastically working hard and in hazardous conditions just to make sure that we have these foods accessible.”
Labor Day was originally organized to recognize the important contribution of “laborers” like Jennifer’s parents, immigrants who often take on vital but underpaid, underappreciated work. They come in search of a better life for their families and contribute to our society in such critical ways. While we may all have our own origin stories, we also share the desire to provide for our families and live happy, meaningful lives.
The work that EVERYONE performs is what makes a functioning society possible, and Labor Day reminds us of that. We are sometimes quick to celebrate certain jobs or accomplishments more than others, but we must remember the unsung heroes of our world whose work isn’t flashy but absolutely necessary.
As we celebrate this weekend, let’s remember to acknowledge everyone’s labor. Let’s appreciate each other and the important work that we all do. Happy Labor Day!