The American Dream at CMC

This article is part of a series that attempts to offer snapshots of the lives of some of the 1,600 staff and support personnel employed within the Claremont University Consortium.

As I bring my plate over to the table on the farthest lefthand side of the room, I overhear Félix Escobedo apologize about his choice for lunch. 

“We’re on a diet, at least for the time being," he said.

The 37-year-old, who has been working at Collins Dining Hall since August 2013, is sitting next to the person who has become his daily lunch companion. Eurasto Robles, 47, who has worked at Collins for almost three years, simply chuckles at Escobedo's admission, only to later inform me that he too is on a diet.

“I came in as a dishwasher, and Erasto was already working with everything to do with the beverages,” Escobedo said. “So, naturally, my work depended upon him as much as his work depended on me.” 

Soon enough, the co-workers became acquainted beyond the assembly line of a dining hall that serves food for hundreds of students each day. 

“Friendships like these allow the day at work to pass by a little quicker,” Escobedo said.

Originally from Aguascalientes, Mexico, Escobedo decided to come to the United States when he was 18 years old. Upon crossing the border at Ciudad Juárez into El Paso, Texas, he was transported to East Los Angeles, where he was held against his will for four days. 

I asked him if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained him, but he said no. 

“The people in charge of bringing me over the border were holding me until they received the $2,000,” he said.

The money, which came from loans and savings from years of low wages, was being held by a friend of Escobedo's in Tijuana, Mexico. After not being able to reach him for three days, the payment finally came through. Despite the delay, Escobedo regards the man who bailed him out with kindness. 

“I was worried that the guy would never show up,” he said. “Luckily, there are still people with a good heart.”

Robles, due to his mostly quiet and humble demeanor, does not tell us a migration story of equal suspense. But leaving your family at the age of 19 in a leap of faith that stretches far beyond the Rio Grande does not really need an introduction.

Originally from Guanajuato, he recalls the hardship of finding well-paid, stable employment in the late '90s. Manufacturing and other well-paying, low-skill jobs were being moved overseas—and back across the border that Robles and Escobedo had crossed."

“Coming from Mexico means you want something better in life, so even though I was bouncing from job to job, I never gave up," Robles said. "I always gave it my all.”

Escobedo found the answer to his prayers, at least for a short period of time. After working as a stocker at a grocery store and then as a restaurant dishwasher, the father of three was finally able to land a secure job at a sales department for a company based in LA. After working his way up to become a supervisor, Escobedo was making a substantial amount of commission. While it seemed as though he had found his calling, he quit his job to earn something much more important: his family’s respect.

“By the time I was becoming really successful, I realized that I, as a person, had changed,” he said. “I had the money, but because of the outstanding time commitment, I was beginning to lose my family. So I left the company in the hopes of finding something that would allow me to pay my bills and enjoy time with my loved ones.”

This is why Escobedo is now here at Claremont McKenna College, where he says he has a better work-life balance. He said that this job is "one of the best I’ve had my entire life.”

“Here, I’m able to provide not only enough financial support for my expenses, but I am also able to spend time with my family and enjoy their company,” he said. “I also genuinely like working here. Normally at other places, people pay for their food and that’s it. Here, the students thank me and are very respectful and appreciative of the work that I do."

Robles agreed, saying that it is not only the working atmosphere at Collins that he appreciates, but also the students themselves.

“I run a small smoothie business out of where I live in East LA,” he said. “Some of the economics students here at CMC offered to help me figure out where to buy the best produce for the cheapest price, how to advertise better, and many other things. And all of this came through by just getting to know a student who helps me practice English when I get off of work.”

When I asked about where they see themselves within the next five years, Escobedo quickly spoke up, saying that while he likes his job, he still regards it as a stepping stone to something else.

“I believe I can make something more of myself,” he said. “I’ll probably stay here for a couple years, but ultimately, I don’t want to be stuck in the same place forever.”

Robles had a different answer.

“For me, this is good," he said. "I’m cool. I believe I’ve already realized my American Dream. I have my house, my small business, and my job. It’s possible to find success in America, all you got to do is hecharle ganas [work hard].”

This conversation has been translated from Spanish by the reporter.