For a series we’re calling “Letter to My California Dreamer,” we’re asking Californians from all walks of life to write a short letter to one of the first people in their family who came to the Golden State. The letter should explain:
What was their California Dream?
What happened to it?
Is that California Dream still alive for you?
Here's a letter from Sarah Monroy to her father, Enrique Monroy.
You landed in California in 1967, during the month of July. Mendocino was your first home here, unlike any town you had known in Guatemala. Just two years later, also in July, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. It felt like a momentous echo of your own journey to California.
One small step for a Guatemalan boy, one giant leap for human survival. But Neil Armstrong had a home that he went back to, whereas for you, orphaned as a child, there was no home or family waiting for you in Escuintla, Guatemala.
You clipped the front page of the Time magazine cover with Neil standing next to the words “Man on the Moon.” It stayed pinned on the wall by your desk in our home in Imperial Valley.
Your desert dreams swelled, even in drought years. They overflowed with a hope for cultural survival and language acquisition because, like Neil Armstrong, you had to survive on a foreign moon that neither saw you nor understood your accent.
You died when I was very young, but I still hear your American dream in the lingering bellow of the foghorn when I stand beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
The first time I heard that foghorn was on one of our road trips. You pulled over at the last exit for the bridge, our old gray van blending into a mist so thick we could barely see a few yards ahead. I couldn’t believe there was a city this cold in summer.
We’d driven 500 miles and left the desert of Imperial Valley for a short vacation to escape the 120-degree heat. We crossed miles of desert, through layers of marine smells at the Salton Sea. We joined the long trails of cars filling the L.A. freeways like ants pouring into an anthill, until finally we reached the cliff sides of Northern California. Their wind-carved cypresses and old redwood trees made me think of fairy-tale forests and dragons.
Only now that I’m a mother do I see how these road trips were not just family vacations to you. They were expressions of hunger to find your American dream. Your dream was taller than the redwoods, and not sated by simply having a family, an old van and a job as a printer at the Mendocino Beacon.
I now live in San Francisco -- its skyline often ebbing and flowing from view beneath the white cloak of fog. Here, I realize my own version of the American dream by translating the dreams of immigrants into ways I can advocate for them as an attorney. I also realize it by watching my son grow up speaking and reading both English and Spanish, loving the written word as deeply as you and I.