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The Story of An Immigrant Who Went From Onion Picking...To The Head of His Own $100 Million Company

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 18, 2024 3:02 am

The Story of An Immigrant Who Went From Onion Picking...To The Head of His Own $100 Million Company

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 18, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Aaron Marquez was an immigrant who picked onions for 12-14 hours a day and went on to found an oil services company that would generate over $100 million in annual revenue. This is his story.

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Go to slash tickets to get yours today. And we're back with our American stories. Up next, we have a classic American story. A classic immigrant story. Aaron Marquez was born in Mexico.

Here he is with the story of how hard work paid off. My dad worked in the United States most of my childhood and mom had two jobs. You know, she'll work in a local factory sewing Levi's. Mom worked there in the morning and she'll come and pick us up from school and fed us and then went back to work and worked in a double shift. And she did that for as long as I could remember. And my grandmother would come and babysit us until mom got back from work. And that's what she did every day. Growing up, my mom was such an incredible figure for us. And it was very motivating to me to see my mom work two jobs and have four kids.

And I mean, it was very difficult. And I would always tell her, I said, mom, you know, when I grow up, you're not going to have to work, mom. You're not going to have to work.

I promise you that. And my mom would always just grab my cheek and and she's like, I know you will. And I said, but there's nothing wrong with working hard. She would always tell me there's nothing wrong with working hard. But whenever you see your parents do that, the stuff that they sacrifice, it makes you appreciate the little things in life, you know, that kind of shape the way you look at things. We all had a conversation as a family, and they decided to to move to the United States. It was never explained to me like as a level of opportunity. It was more of us being together, because dad missed out on so much. And when I was in the second or third grade, that's when all the conversations began.

And honestly, that's something that that I didn't want. We never traveled anywhere. We never went to camp. We never did anything. We literally just went to the school.

Summertime was no different because mom worked every day and dad was in the United States working. So I didn't know any better. But what I knew is that I was comfortable where we were.

I didn't know anything. I went to school. We played soccer. We played basketball, baseball. The only thing that I that I did not like is mom having multiple jobs. And back then, I resonated that. So whenever dad was and mom were talking about moving to the U.S. and things like that, I was like, I asked mom, I said, we're going to have to have two jobs or you have to have two jobs, mom.

And she's like, no, no. So it took a while for us to even get a some type of correspondence back from the immigration saying that we reviewed your application and everything. So we're finally able to get a temporary visa to come to the U.S. We moved to the U.S. when I was 11. So we moved in with my aunt and uncle.

There were six of us and we were sharing basically a room and a half in this house. And we were we came in into Odessa, Texas. We were there two days and we left to Kayonosa, which is a town that everyone picks onions. And and that's how they get paid. They pick you up at three o'clock in the morning and they will charge us to pick us up and bring us back. And you work there till about 7 p.m. at night. And then you come in and pick you up at 8 p.m. at night and you do it every day. Doesn't matter whether it's Monday, Sunday, you do that every day.

We work 12, 14 hours and you're exhausted because the heat's so bad and it's 110, 112 degrees constant on your back. So my dad was able to find a one of those pop-up trailers, the small ones. That's where we lived in the summer.

My mom and dad and my brother, that's what we worked out of. And you know, my aunt and uncle would take care of my sisters during the week and we'll go in there in and out. But we worked all summer picking onions. You know, as an 11 year old, I kind of had different ideas of what I would be doing with my time. But we needed to do that in order for us to save money to buy a house. Every time that we would do that, I would think of my mom leaving the house early and then coming and feeding us, then going back to work. And that motivated me more.

They're like, okay, if mom did this, I'm going to do it and I'm going to be good at it. And so we picked onions all summer. The back of my neck was peeling so bad.

It was terrible because it gets so hot in the summer, 110 degrees. And I can't eat onions. I can't even look at onions right now. So you can imagine just because of the smell and I'm pretty fair skinned. So I would peel so bad. And I remember just telling mom and dad, I said, I don't want to do this again, but I'm going to work hard.

We don't have to do this. We left on a Saturday and school started on Monday. And they gave us, you know, a hundred dollars to go buy some back to school clothes, which I thought it was great. And I remember seeing the first pair of polo boots. I was like, oh man, he's like, I want those. And I asked how much they were. They were like 140 something dollars. I was like, geez, I got a hundred bucks.

There's nothing I can, I can't even get close to that. But I was like, I'm going to work hard to get those. I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to go look at them. I was like, maybe they're on sale or something.

I wanted those boots. So we go get dropped off at the mall in Odessa. And I go to Dillard's and I went and put boots on layaway.

That's the first time I ever heard of the term layaway, but yeah, if you give me a hundred dollars, you still have $45 and you have 60 days to get them out of there. So I went back and met my brother at the food court. And my brother asked me, Hey, where's your, where's your stuff? I said, my brother's name's Freddie. I said, Freddie, I'm actually put the boots on layaway.

I'm going to come get them out. Oh man, my mom and dad are going to really going to be upset with you. And we walked over to the food court and my brother had money to buy me a hotdog or something.

I don't know what it was. So I walked out of the store with nothing. And my brother had all this clothes to go back to school and I did it. And looking back, I would do it the same way because I didn't want to settle. I'm going to come back and, and, and figure out how I'm going to make another $45 because I know I couldn't ask my parents for it.

I don't know how to get this, but I bought a cheap lawnmower and I started mowing yards around the neighborhood asking people. And it was difficult at first because I did not speak English. So I would knock on the door. And if somebody that didn't speak English answered the door, I just pointed out my lawnmower and said, $10. Some of the people were so nice. There was like, okay.

And then when I'll go charge, they'll come and point at me where all the different spots that I left that didn't look good. So I had to go back and mow, re-mow some of the yards and everything, but they were all very, very kind. But I quickly realized that that wasn't, I wasn't very good at it. I didn't want to be good at it.

That was the, that was the point. And I was like, I don't want to be a good grass mower because then I'm going to like it. No, honestly, I was just, I was trying to be quick and, and I would always just leave strips of grass and my lawnmower too. I'm going to blame them more on the lawnmower than me. My lawnmower was not very good and I didn't have a bag on it. So the grass that I mowed just kind of ended up like right where I cut. So that didn't give me the right visibility of realizing if I missed a spot because there's grass kind of going everywhere.

That's my excuse, man. I'm sticking to it. And I was able to get my polo boots out in a couple of weeks and I was very pleased with what I did. I was like, okay, I've figured out what needed to be done to do this. And so it was very, it was very humbling trying to look back and see what I can do, you know, to make money and especially with the language barriers. And we've been listening to Aaron Marquez tell his story, a classic American dreamer story.

And we love sharing these stories with you all year long. He was looking for his independence. He was looking for his freedom. And still today, that memory and that feeling burns deeply in any immigrant who's come here from anywhere, be it Africa or Asia, the Middle East, like my family or Italy, like my mother's side of the family. When we come back, more of Aaron Marquez's story. You're on Our American Story.

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Go to slash tickets to get yours today. And we're back with our American stories and the story of Aaron Marquez. When we last left off, Aaron was describing his upbringing.

We now return to his story with Aaron entering the American school system. I remember going to school on the first day. I remember they'd taken me to class for the first time and everybody in there only spoke Spanish. The teacher spoke Spanish.

The books that I received, they were written in Spanish. We didn't go to PE with the rest of the school. Our lunchtime was different.

I mean, it was just, it was very isolated and I didn't like that. And so I told the teacher, I said, Hey, I want to, I want to be in a regular class. One, because I want to play soccer. Like in two, I speak Spanish. I read Spanish. I, I want to learn to speak English. I want to, I want to do everything in English and I'm not going to learn, no offense, but I'm not going to learn how to speak English when you're teaching me everything in Spanish.

And everything that I'm reading is in Spanish. So this is, this is not going to work for me. And she, she told me, I remember vividly, she said, this is your first day.

This is your first day. So I don't know how you're drawing those conclusions. And this is not for you. It's not for you to decide.

It's for your parents to decide. And I just, I just politely asked, I said, well, how different is this going to be tomorrow? And the next day, I got back to our house around seven. It was the, the bus travel was brutal. Cause we changed buses three different times to go to the North side, to the North side of Odessa, to the South side of Odessa. And I told mom, I said, mom, I can't do this.

I'm not going to learn to speak English with, you know, in this ASL class. I said, you need to put me in the regular classes. That's, that's what I prefer.

And that's what I want. Mom's like, if that's what you want, that's what we'll do. And mom went over there and it's like, put them in regular classes. And that's when life began for me. So I remember going to class for the first time and really not knowing much at all other than how to say my name. And I loved it.

I loved it. I, I was never embarrassed of not speaking English. I would tell all my cousins, all my friends and everyone, Hey, talk to me only in English. I don't, I don't want you to talk to me in Spanish. Talk to me only in English. That's what I would tell them. And that's what I was able, able to learn to speak English quickly compared to anyone else, because everyone was speaking to me in English.

And, and, and that's the way you have to do it. I remember being picked on for, I was reading out of the book. It was my turn to read it was my turn to read it in class. And I pronounced the word Iceland instead of Island. Everyone started laughing.

Then one of the kids next to me went to break. He's like, Iceland. He kept calling me Iceland. And he was laughing at me for not speaking English. And I was like, I told him, I said, man, you're laughing at me because I can't speak English, but I'm learning to speak two languages. I said, I speak Spanish and I'm learning to speak English. I said, I'm going to learn to speak English in the next three or four months. I said, and you still, and you'll still only be able to speak one. I said, imagine if you try to read Spanish, imagine if you try to speak Spanish. I said, so I don't understand. I think that the joke's on you that you're making fun of me.

If we're trying to learn to speak two, two languages, when you're speaking, when you can only speak one, I'm not gonna make fun of you for that. And that changed everything. He never, never said anything again and no one else did. And no one laughed.

I remember no one laughed. Everyone kind of just processed that. They're like, that's so true. And I think he felt bad with my answer and I wasn't trying to be, you know, kind of sending it off, but you know, I just kind of snapped at that, with that answer.

And it's just literally what rolled out of the tip of my tongue. My aunt and uncles, like they would use me in the summertime to go interview with them, you know, I remember my uncle had a job interview and he came and picked me up and say, hey, I want you to go to this interview with me because they don't, I don't speak English. And I was like, okay. So he picked me up and we went over there and he just taps me on the shoulder and I'm like, okay, this is my uncle.

He has an interview today at nine 30 or 10 o'clock or whatever. And he's like, okay. And who are you? I said, well, that's my, that's my, I'm his nephew. And he's like, okay, does your uncle speak English? I was like, no, ma'am. And my English was not very good back then either. And I went in there at the job interview with him and they were asking him, you know, what he, he was an insulator, insulating pipe and everything. And he's, he was telling me, I would tell him that I've been doing this for 10 years and tell him, tell him that I can do this and this.

And there's some words that I know how to translate. So I didn't really have anyone that was really successful in the immediate family that, that I knew at all. Everyone kind of worked and knew what they could provide for their family, but no one was, no one ever mentioned college. No one ever mentioned starting their own business.

No one mentioned anything. But whenever I graduated high school, I started working for a refinery, Huntsman Polymers, and then going to school at night or the rest of college. So I will leave at eight o'clock or six o'clock in the morning, come back at six 45 and then class will start at seven 30 and finish at 10 30 Monday through Thursday.

So I wanted to do that just so I can at least save some money and then look at a four-year school. Did that for a year, working in the plant as a laborer, cleaning tanks and being inside of tanks and very, very dirty type job. But within six months, I worked for a company called J Merritt. They're at that Huntsman refinery and I got promoted as a lead man. And I was making, you know, $18, $19 an hour as an 18 year old, which at that point was more than what my dad was making. So I was, I had my group of eight men that I, that I led and they'll assign us different projects, you know, cleaning tanks, cleaning, just the dirtiest jobs that you could. But at that point I was no longer, I was no longer doing it physically. I was just leading my team as a lead man.

It was great. Every, every job that they'll give us, you know, they'll give you a, a job order and they said, Aaron, here's your job order for your team. And you get five hours to finish it.

And then here's another one. You get four hours to finish it. I focused on doing it faster, safer, cleaner than any other other lead man. I always try to find a way that would, that we can do things that show that, Hey, I'm going above and beyond what's expected. And we finished some of those jobs that were supposed to take a week.

We'll finish it in a day and a half. And people started taking notice of that. And within a year I got promoted again. And what was great is that the people where I was getting promoted, they were very receptive. They're like, Hey, you, you won more out of life than this. And I was a young kid, man, leading these guys have been there a while and I earned their respect because I always, I always worked hard and smart and, but I was doing that also going through school, going to school at night. And they will see me at lunch when everybody will eat lunch and talk and play dominoes in the break room, I will be in there with my book wide open doing homework. Cause that's the only time that I had.

So they would see, they will see that. And I would mean, I was taking 18 hours of school. So it was very, it was difficult to do that, but nothing worth having is easy. And it was important for me to get a degree. And he did from UConn, the University of Connecticut. He then went on to work at the energy company, neighbors getting six promotions in five years. I received the 20, 22, $23,000 bonus my first year. And what I did was I paid for everyone in my family to become American citizens. I never seen that much money made out to my name on one check.

I was like, wow, this, this is amazing that you can get this much money. There's nothing that I wanted more than have the security of my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters to be American citizens. I think the United States of America is the greatest country in the world because it's the only country that as an immigrant, you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. It's a blessing to be an American citizen.

And I held that paramount among anything else. And that's probably the best gift that I could have given my parents, everyone in my family. And to date, that's something that I'm the most proud of is being able to make sure that my parents and everyone in my family, all of us are American citizens. You know, to me, whenever you hear like the Star-Spangled Banner or Amazing Grace, those two songs, no matter what, where I am, what I'm doing, if I hear those two songs, I just automatically want to cry, you know, and it just, the flag means so much to me and as an American and, and everything. So for the first time hearing that in your ceremony, and they're playing that and among groups of so many different people from, from a different backgrounds, it's, I remember I remember just looking around and everyone in our family, we just had tears coming down their eye because we felt that, man, we're, we're American citizens.

How cool is that? And a great job on the production and storytelling and editing by Alex Cortez and Robbie Davis. And a special thanks to Aaron Marquez for sharing his story, starting Picking Onions in West Texas under a hundred degree heat, and then making his way through oil patch work and hustling and working hard and hustling some more. And when he says at the end, when I hear the Star-Spangled Banner or Amazing Grace, I automatically want to cry. The flag means so much to me. The story of Aaron Marquez, the story of this great country here on Our American Stories.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-18 04:42:29 / 2024-01-18 04:53:01 / 11

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