HomeEditors' PicksMexican American children of immigrants strive for success with motivation from parents’ work ethic

Mexican American children of immigrants strive for success with motivation from parents’ work ethic

Published April 5, 2023


When Jose Ponce immigrated to the United States from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, he settled in Big Sur, California, with his brother and began building a life for himself as a dishwasher. He then met Martha Curiel, who was working as a housekeeper and had also come from Guadalajara, and the two began working at a restaurant together. Though it was challenging for him to send money to his family in Mexico while having to pay rent, the newly arrived immigrant worked his way up in the restaurant industry, being promoted from dishwasher to server to bartender to now the manager of Nepenthe and Café Kevah in Big Sur. Today, Ponce works at Nepenthe and Café Kevah alongside his wife and two daughters. 

Like senior Sarah Ponce Curiel, Jose’s daughter, many Mexican American students at Carmel High School with high academic goals commend their parents for instilling in them a strong work ethic and a motivation to succeed with the opportunities given to them.

Junior Daisyre Duenas Paz described her parents’ contrasting experiences immigrating to America from Querétaro, Mexico. Although they both came to the U.S. as teenagers, Duenas Paz’s father already had family in America to assist him in finding work, whereas her mother struggled significantly because she had to build a life for herself without much help and only a middle school education.

Because Duenas Paz’s parents didn’t complete their education, she feels driven to excel in school and to go to college. 

“My mom has always told my sisters and me that education is the most valuable thing one can have in their life since she didn’t get to have one,” explains Duenas Paz, who was recently selected for the Tyler Fellowship, an academic scholarship given to just two students at CHS each year.

Daisy Duenas Paz spent a significant portion of her childhood visiting her family in Mexico, which allowed her to learn more about her culture and where her parents came from. (courtesy of DAISYRE DUENAS PAZ)

A number of CHS’ children of Mexican American immigrants grew up in Big Sur and attended Captain Cooper Elementary School. Some admit that the change from elementary school to middle school was tough because Captain Cooper has a large Hispanic population, whereas Carmel Middle School has a more mixed demographic. 

Many children of immigrants at CHS also say they feel fortunate to have been able to attend such a high-caliber school and receive a good education because many of their parents didn’t have the ability to do so. 

“Going to Carmel, I see how privileged we really are, especially in comparison to other schools,” says junior Carlos Mora Plascencia, whose parents immigrated from Guadalajara, Jalisco, “so I appreciate how hard my parents have worked to live in this area and send me to this school.”

Mora Plascencia’s parents immigrated at separate times, both speaking little English. His mother came to America with her father as a teenager and was able to complete high school, though she struggled because few of her peers spoke Spanish and those that did had to translate for her. His father spoke no English when he first immigrated, making it difficult for him to find work. Mora Plascencia says that his father’s immense work ethic has inspired him to be more motivated as a student so that he can make him proud. 

Outside of opportunities regarding school, these students are thankful to have support and encouragement behind their personal interests from their parents. 

For sophomore Alejandro Martinez-Reséndiz, being taught the basic fundamentals of soccer from an early age by his father ultimately has allowed for him to dominate the sport at a higher level. Alejandro’s parents, José Martinez Paz and Silvia Reséndiz, immigrants from Querétaro, Mexico, have sacrificed a lot to allow him to play soccer for MLS NEXT, a distinguished youth soccer league. Martinez-Reséndiz admires his parents for making an effort to drive him to his practices in San Jose multiple times a week and is motivated to do well in his sport in return. 

Because many children of Mexican American immigrants have witnessed their parents’ hard work and determination to provide a better life for their families, they express the need to give back to their parents, whether that be through working hard in school or contributing to their family’s income. Ponce Curiel, for instance, began working with her father and mother at 14 to assist them in sending money to their relatives in Mexico. 

“They do so much, and they’ve been through so much, so I feel like I need to do as much as I can to help them out, but it’s hard sometimes to juggle both school and work,” Ponce Curiel explains.

Supported by her family, Ponce Curiel (center) is focused on following a career path in nursing once she completes college. (courtesy of SARAH PONCE CURIEL)

Several students have been able to visit their family members in Mexico, which has provided them with a sense of pride in seeing where their parents came from and an understanding of how different their lifestyles are. Duenas Paz grew up going to Mexico every summer, visiting both sides of her family for two months at a time. 

“It made me appreciate what I have more because they don’t have that in Mexico,” Duenas Paz says. “Visiting has given me a whole different perspective on life and has made me much more grateful.”

Although Ponce Curiel’s parents never went to Mexico with her, she and her sister have visited their grandparents, allowing her to gain an understanding of how her parents grew up. 

“Seeing how many people struggle in Mexico and how dangerous it can be makes me feel grateful for what I have in America and the sacrifices my parents made coming over here,” the senior remarks. 

Because of Ponce’s position as manager at Nepenthe and Café Kevah, he no longer has to work seven days a week to support himself, yet he chooses to in order to send extra money to his family in Guadalajara. 

The dedicated work ethic of their parents has motivated these students to go to four-year colleges. Duenas Paz intends to become a veterinarian, and Ponce Curiel wants to pursue a career in nursing, as her father has always encouraged her to help as many people as possible.


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  • These students and their families are an inspiration.

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