Listen to his mother, President Joe Biden said in his inauguration speech — walk in the other person’s shoes, just for a moment. Give our better angels a chance to prevail.
Walk in the shoes of Pedro Roberto Banegas, a civilian Neighborhood Watch block captain who gave his life trying to help police clean up some of the meanest, gang infested streets in the San Fernando Valley — the old Bryant-Vanalden projects in Northridge.
They were renamed the Parthenia Park Apartments in the 1980’s, given a face lift, and became home to hundreds of decent, hardworking Hispanic families. Banegas became LAPD’s eyes and ears inside the complex, trying to make it safe.
He could have drawn the drapes, locked the doors, and hunkered down for the night like most of his neighbors — leaving the streets to gangs until the sun came up.
Instead, he chose sides — the cops’ side. The gangs retaliated, killing Banegas. He knew the risks, but chose to take them to protect his family and neighbors. He died a hero.
Walk in the shoes of Robert Hernandez, a night custodian who was issued an emergency teaching credential by the Los Angeles Unified School District before he graduated from college because there was a severe shortage of bi-lingual teachers in the late 1980’s.
Every Friday night, on his own time, he taught a class on citizenship to 40 Hispanic men who recently had been granted amnesty. Many of them had children in Hernandez class.
“How does a young mind learn school work when all it can think about is daddy being so poor he’s standing on a street corner half a block from the school hoping someone will give him work for the day so he can put dinner on the table at night?” Hernandez asked, walking in their shoes.
Those men you see gathered on street corners looking for work? They want the same thing for their families we all want — a chance to provide them a better life.
Walk in the shoes of Jesus Plascencia-Ponce from Jalisco, Mexico, a 65-year-old busboy at Weiler’s Deli in Northridge. He never had a day’s formal education, couldn’t read or write, and never learned to speak English, but he was the heart and soul of the deli.
“You could be having a bad day, and Jesus would walk up to your table with a glass of water or pot of coffee, smiling because he was so glad to see you,” said longtime customer Clark Fogg. “Pretty soon, you found yourself smiling and laughing. He had this tremendous power to make people just feel better.”
When Jesus died, it was the customers at Weiler’s who picked up the bulk of the burial bill for the busboy.
Walk in the shoes of Lily Guevara, a young, 41-year-old grandmother from El Salvador, happy just to have a job mopping floors and stripping beds in the emergency room at Providence Tarzana Medical Center.
She thought this is what she would do until she grew old and retired. The doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and her co-workers thought something different.
She was a housekeeper with the heart of a nurse, they said. For five years, they had watched her strip beds and put on fresh sheets, all the while leaving a little time to chat with the patients to help ease their minds of the fear they were feeling.
The staff passed the hat and raised $2,000 to send Lily to a bilingual, certified nurses assistant school. She wouldn’t let them down, Lily promised. For eight weeks, she left work at 3 p.m., attended classes, and didn’t get home to her Reseda apartment until 9 p.m., studying until midnight.
She got up at 5 a.m. to walk the mile and a half to arrive at work at 6 a.m. to start all over again. When she walked into the emergency room that first morning wearing her new certified nurse’s assistant uniform, she stopped at the closet where she kept her mop and housekeeper’s uniform.
She looked around at the nurses taking care of patients, and smiled thinking how lucky she was. She would have never had this opportunity in her native country. Only in America.
Listen to Joe Biden’s mother. Walk in their shoes. Let our better angels prevail.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.