By Jose Frescas, resident at Wesley Palms Retirement Community
I was the middle child in a family of six brothers and five sisters, born and raised in Woodland, California about fifteen miles from Sacramento.
From the day of my birth until I entered high school I was Jose. The policy of the school was that all Latino students should be called by Anglicized names. I suddenly became Joe. My parents were greatly upset by this. They had christened me Jose and preferred that to be how I was known. But they were also greatly concerned that I not be disobedient to a teacher, or "make waves" with the school authorities. So, Joe it was.
Just how traumatic that change may have been, and how much it influenced my sense of self-awareness is difficult to estimate, but the fact that I still feel constrained to talk about it all these years later must mean that its effect was significant. I do know that I felt then, and still feel today, that my identity had been stolen.
Subconsciously at least, I am sure it was involved in my decision nearly three decades later to study to become a Counselor. I was acutely aware that I had purposely chosen that path so that I would have the opportunity to work with other minority youth in helping them recognize their true potential and dare to pursue their dreams.
A rather indirect path had brought me to that time and place. Immediately after graduating from high school I enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent eight years in that service. Looking back I feel these were largely wasted years.
On becoming a civilian again I began to look around for a college to attend. No member of my family had ever pursued education after high school, and I remain the only one who has chosen that path. Since that opportunity for me was made possible by a service related disability pension, I have to reconsider my earlier remark that my years as a Marine were wasted years. My Bachelor’s degree was earned at the University of San Diego and followed by a Masters in Counseling at the University of New Mexico.
I then went back home determined to become a counselor, friend and role model for other minority young people in the school where I felt my identity had been denied. The obstacles put in my way were too great to overcome. I persevered for only five months before deciding that the achievement of my goals could only be realized working outside the system. My parents had earlier shied away from "creating waves", but they had produced a son who did little other than that. I was not a trouble maker, but I was determined to give minority kids the helping hand that was never outstretched to me. Working in volunteer activities seemed the best approach to accomplish that goal.
Whether or not I succeeded is up to others to judge. I do cherish a resolution passed by Yolo County officials when I retired after 16 years of service to the Yolo Social Services Advisory community." They said my "lifetime commitment to those less fortunate will be forever remembered as an inspiration to others who believe in the future of Yolo County."
I have been told that I am the only person to be singled out for home by this civic body. Regardless, I am grateful that I had the chance to spend my life this way.
Yo Se Quien Soy / I Know Who I Am is an excerpt from Aging As An Art Form: Through the Eyes Of Residents of Wesley Palms by Wesley Palms resident Don McEvoy. The book contains 50 stories, experiences and life lessons either self-written or told to Don through interviews.
Don McEvoy is storyteller, former pastor and civil rights activist. Aging as an Art Form is available from Outskirts Press and Amazon.com. Proceeds from the book benefit the residents of Wesley Palms.