Javier Valdez, A Cook in the Piazza at Pasadena City College prepares hamburgers on Thursday, September 25, 2014. (Saul Villegas/Courier)
Javier Valdez, A Cook in the Piazza at Pasadena City College prepares hamburgers on Thursday, September 25, 2014. (Saul Villegas/Courier)

Late one evening when a father and son returned home from school, they found the mother and wife of their family unit collapsed and lying helpless on the floor. She had previously been diagnosed as a diabetic and it appeared as though her health was worsening. Since she was without help that day, both the father and son decided that one of them would have to stay home with her while the other would be able to continue attending school.

When Javier Valdez came home that day to find his mother on the floor, his family was residing in El Sereno and he was attending East Los Angeles Community College alongside his father. While his mother’s health was suffering, their landlord received a substantial offer from a prospective buyer, forcing them to move out. Having to move to Lincoln Heights, Valdez made the decision to drop out of school and look for a full-time job so he could help take care of his family. Being the only child, he tried his hardest to be the best son.

Now, Valdez works in the Piazza serving food to students to help his family make ends meet.

Valdez, 22, is from Guadalajara, Mexico and immigrated here with his parents at the age of three. They lived in Echo Park for eight years alongside his three uncles and cousins, two aunts, and both parents in a two-bedroom house. Even now, Valdez looks back on those memories fondly.

“They gave me life, shelter, everything I could ever ask for,” Valdez said. “So whatever I can give them in return, I’m more than happy to do.”

In 2001, Valdez was 9 years old when his father had to receive a kidney transplant due to his bad habit of drinking. The operation saved his life, but sadly left him handicapped. Now with both parents at home in poor health and having to complete at-home dialysis for his mother, he continues to work full-time but aspires of going back to school.

“I always try to have a foot on the happy side. It’s easy to be negative but that’s not going to do anything,” Valdez said. “Honestly, if I were to go back to school, I would like to come here (PCC) and work part-time.”

Valdez grew up learning to work on motorcycles and classic cars with his father and with his aspirations of going back to school, he hopes to one day open his own tire shop or electric auto repair shop. With the future of the auto industry producing more electric vehicles, Valdez believes he would be one of the few ahead of the game in providing an auto body shop that specializes in working on electric cars.

“It’s embedded in me,” Valdez said. “I really enjoy taking stuff out of my car and putting it back to see what’s inside.”

Valdez started working as a cook in The Piazza cafeteria a year ago said his experience has been enjoyable because he gets to interact with countless interesting people on a daily basis.

“Sometimes I’ll see familiar faces which makes my working experience a little more pleasant because it’s not just the co-workers who are nice and cool, it’s also the people and the environment itself,” said Valdez.

Valdez’s coworker Gus Garcia-Pinto works beside him on most days cooking for PCC students and described Valdez as “a very good guy.”

“I really like him, he does everything and he helps me out a lot,” Garcia-Pinto said. “It’s so much fun working with him.”

Despite what Valdez has been through in his life and continues to endure, when Valdez looks to the future, he is strong enough to remain optimistic.

“I don’t think if all of that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be this positive. It’s the roads you travel that shape you into the person you are today,” Valdez said. “So even though there were negatives, I’m grateful that they at least had a positive outcome on my behalf.”

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