Jesse V. came to the United States from Mexico to give his small family a better life. Initially, they settled in Miami, where a group of relatives had immigrated and, eventually, earned U. S. citizenship.
There, he worked as a painter, while Maria, his wife, stayed home to care for their toddler Doreen.
Jesse worked hard, accepting any job and toiling long hours, to make ends meet. He’d learned the painting trade back in Mexico City. /Where both he and Maria left behind their loved ones.
As soon as they arrived in the United States, Jesse and Maria applied for citizenship. The Miami relatives served as sponsors, tutored them in the English language, and helped them meet the other requirements. Just as promptly, they registered as legal residents of Florida.
Shortly after being granted U.S. citizenship, Jesse was given an industrial painting opportunity in the Chicago-Northwest Indiana area. He joined the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades (IBPAT). The job offered a much higher hourly wage, pension and family health benefits, and both job security and safety.
Jesse and Maria fit right into the area. They found a church that offered a Sunday mass in Spanish. The Hispanic population was starting to grow. So, they were able to form a few friendships with families, from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and South America. Always at the core of everything was Jesse’s love for his wife and children – and their devout Catholic faith. He talked a lot about his wife and children.
Eventually, they had three more children: a son and two daughters. Proudly, Jesse and Maria reared them to be good Americans, and good people. Yes, all of them knew Spanish and fluently communicated with family back in Mexico. Their home in Northwest Indiana was decorated with momentos that showed their great pride in Mexico their native land. Also, there were treasures everywhere that showed their great pride in the United States of America, their chosen home.
My father and Jesse worked together on a frequent basis. As the company’s superintendent, Dad often pointed out Jesse’s admirable attributes, strong work ethic and undaunting professionalism.
On the job, what Jesse lacked in height, he made up for in experience, skill, energy, and drive. He was motivated, and always jumped in, “a real self starter.” He had a happy personality, and smiled most of the time. He had a friendly, helpful and willing spirit.
At different periods of time, Jesse and I worked for the same contractor. Whether he was working on a commercial or industrial project, he gave it his 150 percent. He was consistently professional, punctual, loyal, and neat. He never complained about a thing. He worked beside other painters as a true member of that crew, or team, assembled to work on that project. He worked beside other tradespersons, and bent over backwards to make their jobs go smoothly.
He was interested in what others had to say, and he defended others to the limit. Yet, he had difficulty standing up for himself when someone talked about him. And, he had a stubborn streak, and did not like to be corrected.
The biggest joke about Jesse on the job revolved around the large thermos of fresh fruit juice – eg. cantaloupe – that he carried to work every day. Also, he always offered to shae the hot Mexican food packed in his lunch by Maria. Tamales, tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, etc.
One Thanksgiving Day, he and his family came to our country home for dinner. They brought along six home-baked cream cheese pies: 2 plain, 2 cherry, and 2 cinnamon. For 10 people. During the meal, I realized how Maria struggled to participate in the table conversation. After living in the U. S over twenty years, her English-speaking skills were limited. Yet, her immense pride in her family being American citizens radiated from her eyes. Sang from her voice. And, captivated you through her loving smile.
The saddest day in Jesse’s life in America came in the mid-1980s. His beloved wife, Maria, suffered a severe brain aneurysm. Within a few days, he had to decide for the hospital physicians to pull her off the life support machines. At his request, our family sat in the nearby ICU waiting room. Keeping his children company while their dad kept vigil at their mother’s bedside. And, reassuring Jesse and the children as the time drew near to let her die in peace.
I’ll never forget those last moments with Jesse and his children, proud Americans and proud Mexicans.
Jesse was different after he and his children buried Maria. Who wouldn’t be? He took off work to go home to Mexico City, where he visited with his brother, a physician who achieved great tv media recognition during recovery efforts after the massive earthquake in 1985. While in his native land, he also spent a lot of time with Maria’s family.
When he returned, eventually, to the job, he wasn’t the same. Yes, his workmanship and craftsmanship were still first rate. But, his soul was missing.
He and my dad became close. I became close with Jesse’s son-in-law, a coworker of ours.
From time to time, Jesse would simply be gone from work. Back to Mexico for one to two months at a time.
When my dad died suddenly in 1993, Jesse came by. He sat in our living room, and cried. He told me all about his pal, Bob. And, he told me all about the kind of friendship he and my father shared. I didn’t have a clue.
The last time that I saw Jesse. He stopped by to say “hello” and “so long” during our huge estate and moving sale in May of 1993. Like at work, he picked at me a little. “Bob, when are you going to get a girlfriend. You’re a good guy.” For some reason, his joking didn’t bother me at all. I saw how deep and genuine his vein of caring ran for his friend Bob – and Bob’s son.
Thank you for visiting “Painting With Bob.”
Copyright 2016. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.