My First Job
Both my parents came from towns in Mexico. I was born in El Paso, Texas, and when I was four, my family moved to a housing project in East Los Angeles.
Even though we struggled to make ends meet, my parents stressed to me and my four brothers and sisters how fortunate we were to live in a great country with limitless opportunities. They imbued in us the concepts of family, faith and patriotism.
I got my first real job when I was ten. My dad, Benjamin, injured his back working in a cardboard-box factory and was retrained as a hairstylist. He rented space in a little mall and gave his shop the fancy name of Mr.Ben's Coiffure .
The owner of the shopping center gave Dad a discount on his rent for cleaning the parking lot three nights a week, which meant getting up at 3 am. To pick up trash, Dad used a little machine that looked like a lawn mower.Mom and I emptied garbage cans and picked up litter by hand. It took two to three hours to clean the lot. I'd sleep in the car on the way home.
I did this for two years, but the lessons I learned have lasted a lifetime. I acquired discipline and a strong work ethic , and learned at an early age the importance of balancing life's competing interests - in my case , school, homework and a job. This really helped during my senior year of high school, when I worked 40 hours a week flipping burgers at a fast-food joint while taking a full load of precollege courses.
The hard work paid off . I attended the U.S. Military Academy and went on to receive graduate degrees in law and business from Harvard. Later, I joined a big Los Angeles law firm and was elected to the California state assembly. In these jobs and in everything else I've done, I have never forgotten those days in the parking lot. The experience taught me that there is dignity in all work and that if people are working to provide for themselves and their families that is something we should honor.