At 5 A.M. with nothing but the chirp of a bird to wake him, Angel Fernandez will open his eyes and step out of bed.
He gets up six days a week with the same mindset. A drive to work, he said, gave him the courage to leave his country.
Fernandez emigrated from a small town in Ecuador and crossed the Mexican border to do so.
While in the media, stories of Latinx immigrants are frequently in relation to people working in fields and families being torn apart by deportation, further perpetuating the stereotypical idea of what a Latinx immigrant is in the eyes of America, Fernandez shows another side. A less broadcasted image of how immigration can help a determined person to achieve success.
Now a legal citizen, he is married, has two daughters and a grandson, speaks English fluently, has paid off his house and his car, and says he plans to buy a ranch in Ecuador within the next few years.
“I became independent when I was 12 years old,” said Fernandez, “And I’ve been helping my family ever since.”
Of his nine siblings, Fernandez was the sixth but was the first to venture off to the United States. Without any real role model or guidance, at 18, he left thinking he’d stay in the U.S. for about two years, but his heart led him to do otherwise.
Returning to Ecuador after two years, like he had planned, Fernandez met Mrs. Fernandez-to-be.
“I met my wife [when I went back] and I couldn’t think to be without her,” he said. “Actually, after that, I just didn’t think anymore.”
He knew he wanted to build a family where there would be more economic and educational opportunity. “I had to bring her,” he stated.
Fernandez explained that “In the ‘90s, it was crazy how many people were trying to come [to the United States].”
Wearing bulky work boots and a stained blue coat, with the word manager and his last name stitched above his heart, Fernandez sets foot in the produce department of a Key Food supermarket. While he negotiates prices for orders and works on displays of fruits and vegetables, he has a team of workers under his command to keep the department looking clean, cut and fresh for its customers.
Fernandez explained that between the ages of 12 to 18, he had taken up jobs as a baker, shoe repair boy, and tailor at a clothing factory.
At age 14, he began to give his mother a part of his earnings, weekly, for food. “I remember during that time I liked carrots, plantains, cheeses, and I gave her extra money so she could buy those things just for me,” he said, recognizing his maturity even then.
Now 53 years old, having lived 35 years in this country, Fernandez said he has learned a lot from a place he didn’t expect to call home.
“Any time you come from a different country, you come for the money, nothing else,” he said.
With today’s political climate, Fernandez understands the stereotype surrounding those who enter the United States from other countries illegally as well as new laws set to be put in order to complicate the US citizenship process.
To this, Fernandez said he feared the new barriers would be too strict toward people who immigrate to the US to help their families like he did. “Dreamers, kids who go to school and try to support their families shouldn’t be punished,” he stated.
A man whose wife said, “Can’t sit still”, he is more than just produce manager. Fernandez repairs all that needs to be fixed in his home by himself, gardens, and makes sure his tenants are taken care of. When there is nothing left to be done, he will pick up one of his many instruments and play.
Fernandez attributed his achievements to a simple rule. “You can’t compare yourself to other people,” he explained, “Everything I do, I do because I want to do it not because I see that others do this or the other.”
Fernandez said that throughout his life, the need to work tirelessly and make it in a country foreign to his has led him to pick up an obsession with perfectionism. A trait that others have picked at him for, but one that has also brought him to where he is today.
“Everyone should do their best no matter what others say, whether it’s worth it or not, I try my best, because I know how to do the best, so why shouldn’t I reach my best,” he stated.
However, Fernandez admits he is wrong sometimes, acknowledging the standard that he places on those around him. “They can’t do it like me or be like me, nobody can, just like I can’t be like them.”
Of all that Fernandez feels he has accomplished, there is one thing that sticks out most.
“I took care of my mother, that’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. Fernandez explained that he doesn’t think he ever disappointed her but was sure he never forgot her.
Amongst his many siblings, Fernandez was the only one economically and legally able to tend to his mother while in hospice care. Traveling back and forth from New York to Ecuador several times over the course of a year. Fernandez just did what he felt, he explained pointing to his chest, for someone he knew gave their all for him.
Looking to the future, Fernandez said he knows he won’t stay in the U.S. after retirement. The only reason he has stayed for so long is to work for the stability of his family. He explained that while this country has given him the opportunity for so much, it will take away that much more.
“These four walls will kill you in one year, I don’t want that,” Fernandez said referring to a retirement in the United States.
His dream, he said, isn’t to buy a big house or go on luxurious vacations. Instead, he plans to have his own land back in Ecuador in which he can raise some animals, work at his own pace and have his wife by his side.
“I knew I had to give it my all no matter what,” Fernandez said in reference to making it in this country, “nothing comes easy.”