Michelle Mattich was born in El Paso, Texas She enjoys writing, and listening to music. She also enjoys reading a good book and watching Netflix. Michelle...
Moving Onward and Forward
Chasing the American Dream
September 24, 2018
You never get used to cow blood, or being covered in it. My father assured me it was nothing and that my summer job slicing specialty cuts of meat was bearable. I took his word for it but boy, was I in for a surprise!
Cow blood smells, the metallic odor was so bad that I couldn’t eat any meat. Sometimes the blood splattered and stung my eyes or it was simply on my face. What is the point of giving us a white frock if by the end of your shift it looked like bloody murder. But who was I to ask so many questions? I was just there for the summer.
I counted the minutes and the seconds to when my shift ended. I prayed I’d make it home alive without losing a limb. People joked about that but I took it seriously.
The job might sound disgusting but like most people who live in Liberal the meat packing plant, National Beef, is the main place of opportunity for my family. It can be said that the majority of the 20,000 people or so in town works at or has stepped foot into that plant at some point, meat packing plants are part of Southwest Kansas DNA.
The bureau labor of statistics in the U.S states that Kansas has one of the highest concentrations of meat packing job concentrations. There’s meat packaging plants within an hour between towns.
There’s a wide range of diversity, majority of the working staff is latino, followed by a wide range of asian portion. There is a growing number of Guatemalan staff as well as workers from Somalia, Sudan, and other parts of the world. When it comes to work although not all know how to speak english hand gestures make up for that. It’s a growing plant where many cultures come together and coexist with one another.
My own father is part of that working staff. 11 years on the job and several excruciating hours of hard work he keeps going back for one reason— Provide a better life for his family. That is the goal both of my parents had in mind.
Growing up in Mexico was a hard life for both of my parents. My father only got a second grade education because he ran away with the circus due to my grandmothers harsh abuse. He fended for himself. He spent most of his childhood without a pair of shoes.
My mother worked from the age of six to buy her own school supplies. She dropped out of school in sixth grade to work full time and help out her family.
My parents wanted better for their children. We always had clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet- and food to eat. But most importantly we attended school.
“School is your only job and I want both of you to excel at it” my mother said to us and continue to say it to this day.
To them education is the “American Dream.”
Chasing this dream wasn’t an easy task but rather a long chain of risks. The first step was making it into the U.S. my parents crossed the border together and were overwhelmed with what was laid out in front of them.
“When we first arrived in the U.S we slept in a small van we brought from Mexico. My mother recounted. “I left your older brother with your grandma so he wouldn’t have to suffer along with us.”
They spent three days without any food. They had no money. One day my mother saw a lady selling quesadillas on the street and offered to help in exchange for food. She agreed and even let them stay in her back room on a spare mattress.
“We suffered a lot those first months, then we began to follow the produce seasons. Whether it was onions, tomatoes, limes, or potatoes we went where there was work. My mother said with a shrug.
Making the Dream
”Once my brother and I were born, my parents decided things needed to change. Instead of transient work or driving a truck, they wanted us to be together and have a solid foundation. They wanted their children to get the education they never had. The “American dream” was alive for them, now more than ever.
Attaining the next step of this dream meant we moved from Chaparral, New Mexico to Liberal. My father found a job at National Beef.
When we arrived in Liberal, nothing came easy. we didn’t have a house. So my parents rented a cockroach-infested, moldy trailer for a night. We didn’t bring any furniture so we slept on the floor.
We eventually moved into a small, two-bedroom home. We went through financial struggles and even lost our truck. My mother found odd jobs like housekeeping and harvesting potatoes. We didn’t have money for groceries except red chili and a turkey that was given to my father at work. Lets just say we ate it for so many meals in a row that I don’t eat turkey anymore.
We endured it all in hopes of living a better life. My parents did everything they could to make sure their children stayed in school.
Understanding the Dream
After two months of cow blood and cutting specialty meats, I understand their dream and sacrifices now more than ever. I learned a lot about my father and the people who sacrifice themselves and their health in order to provide for their families.
This whole summer at National Beef I couldn’t help but ask, “Who puts up with these types of jobs?” The answer is people like my father — people who want to give their children the opportunity to grow up differently than they did.
The workers at National Beef are some of the most hardworking people that exist out there, and that includes my father. I worked there in order to save money for college. But for many of my coworkers, it’s survival. They are following in the footsteps of my parents, putting feet to their dreams.
My parents are living proof to never stop working toward a dream. My brother and I graduated high school and are pursuing higher education and training to prepare for our chosen career paths.
It would be nice if the story ended there but attaining dreams doesn’t mean there’s a perfect happy ending. After years of hard work, my father has arthritis from the workload. He’s aged faster and is constantly in pain. My mother still takes odd jobs for as little as $15 cleaning kitchens. She suffers from tendonitis in her left shoulder from a restaurant accident where she worked as a dishwasher.
Despite these ailments, the chase for something better for their children continues. It is up to my brother and I to make this next phase of the dream a reality.
Editor’s Note: This story was also published on Humanities Kansas as part of a partnership with HK and Crusader.