I know this is supposed to be stuff I didn’t write for the campus newspaper, but this was a person I met who greatly impacted my life and I hope that I can continue to look at my life differently because of this one person.
Without further ado, meet Luis Aleman.
It was miserable. It was a place where people labored, day in and day out, carrying boxes of potatoes from one end of the warehouse to another — it was the place Luis Aleman spent a year in order to raise money to go to college.
“I remember thinking ‘Is this what hell feels like?’” Aleman said.
Aleman, a junior at the University of Idaho studying French, Spanish and international studies, said he worked alongside his mother in a potato factory in southern Idaho for a year after he graduated high school. Aleman wanted to further his education, but knew neither of his parents — who worked as farm workers to support him and his siblings — could afford to help him through school. Aleman knew there were bills to pay and he didn’t want to take any opportunities away from his younger siblings.
Aleman said it was his mother who persuaded him to apply to UI. She told him high school was nothing and that he needed to further his education so he could live a better life than she and his father had. Aleman said there was an expectation to always do better, and education was the way his mother felt he could do that.
Aleman’s mother heard about a presentation from Jesse Martinez, then the director of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) at UI. After attending the session, she convinced Aleman to apply.
He was denied.
Aleman said the first time he applied and was denied, he was angry — at himself, and in that moment at his mother.
But she didn’t give up.
Aleman said his mother told him that even if she had to work like a dog, he would further his education. Aleman said his mother did indeed work hard, but it wasn’t like a dog — it was like a machine.
“A lot of people think it is easy to be treated like an object, to work like a machine, a robot,” Aleman said.
Aleman said once, a doctor insinuated to his father that the only reason to work on a farm was the money. Yet Aleman said he saw his parents sacrificing their bodies just to help him and his siblings survive.
Yet despite long hours and the physical toll it inevitably took on his parents, to Aleman and his family, farm work was about more than just the money. It was about building better lives for their children, and eventually their children’s children. Every day, Aleman said he wonders if his parents are OK. Every day he hopes that their injuries don’t get worse. To him, his parents are the definition of silent heroes, and to him, attending school is his way to pay them back for the sacrifices they made.
The road to Moscow was a long one. Yet to Aleman, the first step is the one that matters. Aleman’s first step was in Gudalajara, Mexico, where he was born.
Guadalajara, the second-largest city in Mexico, was not a peaceful place to live and raise a family. Aleman said the neighborhood his parents lived in was violent, with high rates of gang activity. He said he attended school during the afternoon and thought snow was something that only happened in the movies.
Aleman’s parents migrated to the U.S. when Aleman was 11. His father had worked on a farm for years before Aleman and his mother and two younger siblings joined him in the U.S.
Aleman said that the trip to Idaho went on forever. They just kept driving. Aleman’s father never actually told him where they were going, only that he would see when they arrived.
When they finally stopped in Idaho Falls, the first thing Aleman learned was that children went to school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. He said his 11-year-old self was not excited.
On his first day of school, Aleman said he didn’t understand anything. The teacher would ask him questions, and the only thing he would do was nod. The other Latinos in the class were cocky about being able to speak English when he could not, Aleman said. They also made Aleman self-conscious of having an accent — something he continues to try to control.
It was a year before Aleman first spoke in English. He said his teacher had asked if he needed an assignment.
“I already have it,” Aleman remembered responding.
Aleman said his teacher was shocked because it was the first time she had ever heard him speak in class.
After a few years in the U.S., things began to fall apart in Aleman’s family, and Aleman said the divorce was sudden. One day his mother’s things were in the house, and after school they were all gone.
Aleman said he saw the shift it caused in his siblings’ lives, which was what made him so angry and hurt. Watching his siblings in pain caused Aleman to become depressed and began to consider suicide. Each time he was tempted, however, he said he reasoned he needed to remain as a buffer between his parents and his siblings.
Aleman’s sister Yajaira also developed depression. Yajaira said she didn’t want to talk to anyone, but Aleman’s mother convinced her to see a psychologist.
One day, Aleman said Yajaira’s psychologist told him the only reason she was still here was because of him. All her strength came from him. Aleman said hearing that made him feel human — like he had a purpose to better his life and his siblings’ lives. Aleman said that was the turning point in his own depression.
After that, Aleman took it upon himself to get better. He started reading about ways to overcome depression, and began to think more positively.
“Through thick and thin, there is always a reason to smile,” Aleman said. “Happiness is always there.”
Aleman would take Yajaira out to movies or to a park or to just do something. Then one day, Yajaira didn’t take her antidepressants.
“I asked her why she wasn’t taking them — she should be taking them,” Aleman said. “She took the bottle of pills and threw them away and told me ‘I don’t need artificial happiness.’”
Aleman smiled through tears as he said he had never been more proud of his sister than in that moment. He saw her adopt the same foundation that he himself had taken and had tried to spread to his entire family — to be positive and always find the beauty in life.
“My siblings are my pride and joy,” Aleman said. “They always will be, no matter where they go in life.”
Yajaira said through everything, her brother has been her closest friend, and he is always outgoing and positive.
“He has gone through so many things,” Yajaira said. “Most people would have given up, but he didn’t. He wanted to succeed and he is doing that.”
Yajaira said their cousins did not understand why education was so important, or why Aleman seemed to care. Yajaira said he told them to watch and see him succeed.
“And now I’m here,” Aleman said. “This is my dream, and I am living it.”
Aleman said he is not sorry that he went through all the challenges in his life, because without that experience, he wouldn’t have the drive that he has today. Yajaira said nothing can hold her brother back, not even the hardships from their childhood. She said he was the one who helped her through everything and the one she has tried to model herself after. His motto, she said, would be to stay positive and don’t give up no matter what life throws his way.
“We have so much against us, so much to fight for, we can’t give up,” Aleman said.