(Editor’s Note: Last month we announced that Alex Montoya was selected as a winner of the “California Stories Uncovered: Letters Home,” sponsored by the California Council for the Humanities and New California Media for his essay entitled:“California: Cradle of Dreams,” which was selected as top-prize winner of the statewide contest. The following is the essay that Montoya was recognized for.)
California: Cradle of Dreams
Querida Mamá y Papá,
It is the first day of the New Year, and I am writing to thank you. Every since that day in 1978 when I was a wee lad of four years I am indebted to you for the heart wrenching decisions you made. You knew that as a triple amputee I was born with a disability that would make my life a challenging one. But you had the foresight, and interminable love, to know that my upbringing would be harder in our native Columbia, South American. It is a beautiful country with many social and technological advances, but back when I was a child there would not have been educational or medical opportunities for me.
So you agonized and, knowing that we had relatives living in the United States, allowed me to move to a land of boundless potential: California.
I have never truly described to you the wondrous power and amazing experience of living in this State. Even in our (too infrequent) times of visitation, I have not accurately described the exhilaration and hope provided by the Golden State.
After a brief stay in the Bay Area with its soaring views and international populace we moved to San Diego, which became my adopted hometown. It is here that I experience what you must want me to receive: opportunity.
Most everyone who lives in San Diego seemingly comes from someplace else. They come to escape snow, tornadoes, or other punishing weather. It is no wonder, since the skies are normally a blooming blue, with the sun caressing you face like a warm blanket. Equally breath taking is the proximity of other terrains within a short drive- the splendor of the mountains, the ruggedness of the desert, and the majestic beauty of the beaches.
But some come to truly escape more than just harsh climate. I know a gentleman who escaped from turmoil in Grenada. He now makes the mist of his freedom by organizing food drives for the needy families. I have another friend whose family were refugees from a civil war in Africa. He went to UCLA on a track scholarship and recently represented the USA in the Olympics in Athens, Greece. Since we are nested on the Mexican American border, I also know others- some who live in San Diego permanently, others who work here but reside in Tijuana- who contribute daily and mightily to the region’s economy. They are the epitome of perseverance, determination, and fierce work ethnic.
What is most wonderful about California is that it is a cradle of dreams. From Priests who founded missions here in the Old West, to Gold Rush settlers, to aspiring actors and musicians, people have historically flocked here to turn their dreams into their daily lifestyle.
I am one of those. California is where I have been able to- just as you hoped attend school, join the work force, build a career, and engage in improving my community through public service. A disability here does not mean a pre-conceived notion of inability. If you dream it, you can become it.
The most unexpected example of this occurred for me five years ago. I heard that world-famous director Steven Spielberg was casting for his science fiction film Artificial Intelligence. He specifically wanted people with prosthetics to play a role of futuristic robots so I auditioned - and got the role. Although my part in the movie was a quick one, you would have been proud, Mom and Dad. Imagine your son who received his first pair of prosthetics in San Francisco, and is now a hard working sales director in beautiful San Diego, actually got to be in major motion picture in Los Angeles. (I even got to return to Hollywood a year later to be an extra in a second film. Here you get more than one chance to make dreams come true!)
I am now a proud American Citizen, but will never forget my South American and Latino roots. That is what this state has taught me - to be proud of my heritage. I owe it all to you, Mami y Papi, and to the Good Lord. To California, where today’s dreams become tomorrow’s reality.