He gave it up and returned to the streets, where his gang members hung out and fenced stolen goods for money.
When he was eighteen, one day his little brother, Paco, came to him and said he wanted to join the gang. Jose looked at his little brother, four years younger than he, with a round, innocent face and big, black, trusting eyes. Fear and anger rose in him.
No way!" he said. "You just stay away from those gangs. You're too young, you don't know what you are asking. You should go to school and make something of yourself, not waste your time with a gang!"
As soon as he said it, and saw the tears start to come up in Paco's eyes, he knew what he had to do. He was not setting a good example for his brother. His brother saw him smoking and drinking sometimes, and glimpsed him on the streets with his "hermanos." Paco knew he snuck out at night and sometimes came home early in the morning to sleep all day while his parents were gone.
He had to leave home. But before he left, he told Paco that he was sorry he had been a part of a gang and that he expected better things from him. Then he took some money he had been saving and bought a bus ticket to California. He had heard that California was better than Dallas, especially for immigrants. The laws allowed immigrants there to get medical service and go to the schools and get welfare. Texas was difficult for immigrants. Texans hated Mexicans, it seemed, so much that they managed to keep any services from them, including medical services, though all were supposed to be able to get emergency treatment.
When the bus arrived at the vast and echoing Greyhound station in Los Angeles, Jose was frightened. It was so big and full of people. He kept his money balled up in his fist and his fist in his pocket, he was so afraid that someone would steal it. He had to find somewhere to go where it was safe and there were other Latinos. He asked around, then took another bus fifty miles north to the town of Oxnard, and there he felt more comfortable. He got a job right away, after spending the night in a motel, working in the fields....
He worked all summer and saved quite a bit of money, staying in a room that he rented by the week. He was maturing, he thought, taking responsibility for himself. Working outside was healthy and his fellow laborers were jolly. They were all hard workers and most lived clean lives unhindered by smoking, drinking or drugs. Jose did not feel pressured to do any of the things he had felt he must in the Dallas barrio. After a few weeks he got the nerve to call his parents and they talked for what seemed a long time over the phone. His parents were very happy he was alive and doing well. Jose even met a girl, one of the day laborers, who was very pretty and smart and they spent a lot of time together.
But Jose knew that he couldn't be like his father and work in the fields all his life. He needed an education and some kind of job training. Watching television one night in the early fall of 2001, he saw an advertisement for the Marines and knew that was what he wanted to do, to join them and find a purpose for his life. The next day he went to the recruiting office and joined. He was immediately sent to El Paso, Texas for basic training, and then returned to California, to train as a tech operator at Fort Ord, Monterrey. His girl-friend came to live nearby and they talked about getting married.
Living by the ocean in Monterrey was wonderful if the weather was dry. They were training outside a lot in hot, cold or stormy weather. Jose knew he was learning a trade and would be able to get a GED and perhaps go on to college, if he stayed with the service.
Now, whenever he called and talked to his parents, they were proud of him and hopeful for his future. His brother Paco would soon finish high school and planned to enroll in the community college nearby. For that Jose was grateful. He had done a good deed, perhaps, by talking to his brother so strongly that night.
Jose knew that when his training was finished, he would be going overseas, probably to Iraq, since the bombings of the Twin Trade Towers had occurred last year and now the United States was sending thousands of troops into the Middle East. But he didn't care. He had found a mission in life and knew he would be a good computer tech, a good soldier and perhaps…
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