10 Martin & Guadalupe Diaz

  • Martin & Guadalupe Diaz. Hanford, Kings County.

  • In 1972, Martin and Guadalupe Diaz came to California looking for a better life than they had in Mexico. But in the years after they arrived, life was nothing but hard.

    Just before Guadalupe gave birth to their first child, Martin was deported. When she left the hospital, newborn in her arms, she just sat on the street corner, wondering who would bring her home. Two days later Martin was back, but when they returned to their house it was occupied—the owner figured that Martin’s deportation meant he was gone forever. So the young family lived in their car. For a month they slept under a tree. At last Martin’s boss gave them a home, but it was a cinderblock box—no furniture, electricity, or even windows. The couple slept on the cement floor, their infant son between them. A year later, while pregnant with their second child, Guadalupe was deported with her infant son. After she had returned, their new house burned down. What little they possessed was lost.

    Circumstances stabilized once they became legal citizens, but it was then that they began working almost without rest. At times Guadalupe took on both day and night shifts; Martin regularly put in sixteen- and eighteen-hour days. “The whole family would be picking onions at sixty cents a sack, from six in the morning to two in the afternoon,” Martin Jr. told me. “But our parents never said, ‘Look at how poor we are, we expect you to be this or that when you grow up.’ It was, she always told me, ‘If you can work in a place where there’s a rooftop over your head, then you’re doing good.’”

    As one of fourteen siblings, Guadalupe had left school after third grade. As a child she dreamed of going to the U.S. to drive the freeways she had seen on television, but as a young woman that dream matured: she saw the U.S. as a better place to be a mother. That’s why she and Martin came.

    In Guadalupe’s opinion they have achieved their goal. All four children completed high school; Martin Jr. graduated from UC Berkeley. None is an astonishing rags-to-riches success story; they’re simply regular people living decent, stable lives—and that’s enough. “None of them were drug addicts,” she told me. “They don't have any vices. They’ve never been in jail. I’m very proud of that. In the form that my children live, whether with or without money, they are happy. And that’s the best for me.”