Adrian Martinez, Downingtown PA 2016
Working as an artist for the Bush family I had been to the White House many times, several times with my wife and son, but once with my parents as well.
My father and President George W. Bush had a brief conversation in Spanish as we gathered in the Oval Office eight years ago. Walking through the high ceilinged hallway towards this unforgettable meeting, White House staff took pains to emphasize this was to be a photo op only, lasting no more than 5 minutes. Much to their consternation the President spent more than an hour with us.
The previous weekend my wife and son had spent a couple of days with the First Family at Camp David. This was a long way from where I started out. My father is Puerto Rican and my mother is Irish/German and my story is why President Bush wanted to meet my parents.
I was born in a charity hospital in Philadelphia and when I was five years old we moved to Washington D.C. Like Friends Association, Preston Retreat Home for Indigent Mothers, where I was born, was an old, privately funded charity for families in distress. It lasted almost 100 years, closing during the 60’s as the Federal Government started taking responsibility for a large scale welfare system. Growing up in the slums of D.C., I have early memories as a raggedy child standing in front of the White House looking through the bars of the beautiful wrought iron fence and wondering what life could be like inside. Ten blocks away, my home was crumbling plaster walls, cockroaches and rats. Social workers were disdainful if not disgusted, but there were other people and organizations whose kindness I can never forget. People I did not know donated money to support community centers like Hull House and free summer camps like Plato’s Place. Plato had been informally opening his farm and woodlands to poor city kids for years. Volunteers fearlessly drove into our dangerous neighborhoods bringing food, clothes and arranging transportation to spend the day sitting on mossy creek banks in the shade and once being chased by an escaped sow and her dozen piglets. Somehow Plato believed we were worth something. Why was that?
My parents, now in their nineties, still live in the D.C. area. Their conditions are much improved because they worked hard to continue their education. For a brief period, Mom, Dad, my sister and I were all attending college simultaneously. By the time President Bush met my parents, they had been retired school teachers for many years. As we explored the various rooms connected to the Oval Office with the President, he discussed each painting hanging on his walls and told us why it was there and what it meant to him. Increasingly frantic staff members kept dropping in, looking at their watches, and trying to get the President’s attention until he gave them a definitive look and we never saw them again.
Eventually the photos were taken and he presented us with souvenirs of our visit. My son received a White House key chain. “For when he gets his first car”, the President explained. But he had one more thing to say. George Bush looked at my parents a moment and said “I know what you must have gone through, being from two different cultures and getting married when and where you did. But your courage is what makes this country a great country. You persevered and now you have children and grandchildren to be proud of and I know they are very proud of you as well. I am grateful to have met you.”
In a few months, my son Sebastian is going to pursue his Doctorate in Philosophy. Sebastian is the third generation of my family who worked hard to achieve their goals in life. I can take a certain pride and satisfaction in this. And I know very well that in my childhood there were people that I did not know and will never know that gave time and money to organizations like the Friends Association because they believed that we were worth something. Why was that?
Worth something 2016 Adrian Martinez
Edited by Elle Steinman
West Chester BID