By Cassandra Jaramillo, ONA15 Newsroom, Reprinted with permission from the Online News Association/journalists.org.
I can still remember the smell of Old English.
From the time I was little until I turned 15, my mother would bring me to the houses she cleaned and I’d help her. I learned early that Old English oil would leave wooden furniture polished perfectly, and old newspapers could leave the dirtiest mirror spotless and shining.
I’d entertain myself cleaning the dust off Mrs. Belinda’s glass figurines from Hobby Lobby at her home in Nederland, Texas.
I clearly remember the summer before first grade, when I was polishing the furniture in Mrs. Belinda’s living room. That’s when I told my mom I wanted to grow up to be a housekeeper like her.
I think I was just a little kid that adored her mom and wanted to be like her, but she took me seriously. She sat down next to me and said that she had to clean houses in the United States because she didn’t have the educational opportunities that I had.
That’s when I really understood that my parents had left Mexico when I was two years old to give their only child a better life.
After they arrived in 1996, my dad did small jobs and my mom cleaned houses. My dad spent his life savings on the small two-bedroom house he bought in Port Neches, Texas, because Southeast Texas locals told him it was the best school district.
Over the years as I grew up, I got interested in becoming a professional runner and working in the health care field. I changed my mind a lot, probably like a typical kid. But every summer, until I got my first job as a receptionist at 15, I would help my mother clean those houses. We could do often two houses in a day together.
When I started thinking about going to college in middle school, I told my mother I wanted to be a doctor to make enough money so she wouldn’t have to clean houses.
My mom told me I should do something I love and not look for money to find happiness. She always felt the only characteristic that I had to be a doctor was the chicken scratch handwriting. Why she felt that way, I’m not sure, but she was right.
I was accepted into the Health Occupation Students of America program at Port Neches-Groves High School and found out really quickly that I couldn’t even help work a blood drive. The sight of needles made me uneasy.
In 11th grade, I dropped the health occupations program after getting a hold of a video camera and taking a production class in high school. Students accepted into the class were a part of “Primetime,” a weekly broadcast that would air every Friday morning. I’d see the Primetime students and wanted to learn how to do the cool videos that they produced.
My first assignment my teacher gave me was to shoot a football game. I loved capturing live moments in action. How my 90-pound body managed to carry the heavy equipment for two hours straight still bewilders me.
I had found my calling. I never wanted to stop recording and I always wanted to ask questions. One story I did was on a high school teacher retiring still makes me smile to this day. He had taught at my high school for more than 30 years and was a self-described curmudgeon. Although he was a very stern man, I still managed to make him laugh in the interview. I just had a way of making people open up and relax.
When I was awarded a four-year scholarship to go to any public university in Texas, I knew I wanted to go to the University of Texas at Austin. Given my great experience with Primetime, I really wanted to major in journalism.
It’s true my parents got excited thinking I might one day be on television. But really, they told me they were proud to have a daughter with a high school diploma and on her way to go to college.
When dad first came to the United States, he did any job he could manage to find. Cut grass, clean up apartments–he even worked as a dishwasher at Waffle House once, he told me. Now I was getting a shot at doing what I loved.
I was the first in my family to get educated in the United States, and I was on my way to become the first to go to college. I had been by my mother’s side all the time while growing up, and it was scary to think about moving hundreds of miles away to go to college.
But then I remembered the sacrifices and fear my mother had to have face when she came to a foreign country, and I realized my fears were miniscule in comparison to hers.
We shed some tears together as she dropped me off at my freshmen dorm. Not so much out of sadness, but out of happiness. This was a small step to moving forward in my American dream.
The past few years at the University of Texas at Austin have taken me on adventures I would have never imagined I would be able to experience. It’s also brought me to some tragic events.
The Fort Hood shooting in 2014 was a “gut-check” for me as a young journalist. I was working my shift as an intern at a local Austin news station when the news broke. I asked the assignment editor if I could go with the crew and help them. She looked at me like I was crazy. I looked back at her and said I was serious.
She warned me that the crew probably would be staying the night. I didn’t retract my offer. That night we got three hours of sleep between the live coverage in the evening until we woke up for the morning show.
It was also my 20th birthday. It was a hard day to find anything worth celebrating.
Seeing first hand the hard work that goes into informing the public amid tragedies made me realize the deep commitment I have to journalism.
I’ve gotten to work alongside some talented people and have had the best mentors. I’ve gone twice to New York City to intern during the summers: once as an NBC and National Association of Hispanic Journalists news fellow at CNBC, and another time as a Dow Jones News Fund intern.
By far, the most rewarding moment in my experience was getting the chance to bring my mom to the Wall Street Journal where I worked this summer as a News Fund intern. I covered corporate breaking news and wrote earnings stories. I told my Wall Street Journal supervisor, Michelle LaRoche that my parents were coming to New York, and she was kind enough to arrange a private tour for them.
Going up the elevator in the News Corporation building, my mom looked up, smiled and said to herself, “My daughter works here. She’s a journalist.”
I went from spending my summers cleaning with rags alongside my mom to writing for the Wall Street Journal. I can’t wait to see where life brings me next. Next summer, I’ll be a college graduate, and I owe it all to my parents’ sacrifices and their encouragement to let me follow my dreams.