By Guest Writer Piers McGinn,
Rafael Lopez has been keeping the campus beautiful for six years and yet not many know anything about him. Many on campus have most likely seen Lopez and can appreciate the way he cares for the community.
“Since I was 14 years old, I knew I had to work,” Lopez said, “It has just been a necessity.”
Lopez is from Michoacán, which is near Jalisco. He was raised knowing that he would have to help provide for his family as soon as possible, so he started working at any job he could. He worked construction and assisted his brother-in-law as a machinist but earned only enough to survive.
“The money was up north,” Lopez said.
Lopez and his brother made the decision to leave their hometown for Tijuana, Mexico for a chance to enter the United States, but with little experience it would be extremely challenging.
“It was really hard. We got there and my brother got sick,” Lopez said. “So he had to stay in Tijuana, but I eventually found a group of people from my hometown that said ‘Vamanos’ [let’s go in Spanish].”
He finally made it across the border in 1984 with his uncle and found work at an almond and grape ranch in Napa, California.
Lopez spent four years at the Napa ranch before he had to return to Mexico briefly because of his sister’s death but returned very quickly. He lived in barracks with other Mexican immigrants on the ranch who also came to the United States for work.
“I don’t remember much from that time other than work,” Lopez said. “Every once in a while I would go into town but that did not happen that often. I do remember the food though. The food in Mexico is not the same as the food here in America.” Lopez offered a pig up as example. “Here you don’t eat the whole pig, but in Mexico we do.”
Lopez lightheartedly expressed that they don’t necessarily eat the eyes or bones of course. Throughout his time in America, he has missed some of the festivals and food from Mexico but has found it harder and harder to find others from the same area. However work continued to be of utmost importance for him and he found a better job up north.
Oregon was the next destination in his long and tenuous journey. Oregon was life-changing. He met his wife who soon gave birth to his son there. Lopez didn’t quite have an idea of exactly where he was going, but rather he had a reason that had driven his life since a young age. “I had to always have work.”
Lopez continued to work in Oregon until his wife found work in Roanoke at a window production facility in 2002.The family moved but Lopez’s focus never did. He had to find a job quickly. He started working in a local factory before taking up a job at North Cross School in 2012. Lopez is known for continuously bringing a bright smile to work every day.
“He is the face of who we want to be,” said Deborah Jessee, Assistan Head of School for Academics. “Bright smile, welcoming spirit, hard work, cooperative nature . . . Rafa makes my day. He always stops what he’s doing and says good morning, Deborah. He’s just dear.”
Photo By Robert Robillard