Meet My Dad

Guest Post – Gabriela Robles, Chief Executive

The oldest of seven kids, with six younger sisters, I always joke that Fermin Robles, my dad, was born a feminist. He was never macho and never imposed any barriers on my siblings and me. He always wanted us to thrive – and still does today. I remember when it was time to get my license, and our Latina friends were discouraged to drive. My dad saw nothing wrong with an unmarried woman driving and bought me a used car before I left home to go to college.

Growing up in Mexico, his family didn’t have much. At nine years old, he left school. He was hired to take care of cattle on a nearby ranch, his primary responsibility was ensuring the cows didn’t wander off the property. He told us how his cousins lived in the U.S., and he would daydream while standing on the Mexican side of the border, watching the cars with CA license plates drive across. Since he was young, my dad had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish for himself and his family before we even existed.

He knew my mom early on in Mexico, but when he had an opportunity to come to the U.S. in the 60s, he took it. One of his cousins sponsored him, and he found work in LA’s meatpacking district. Much like the work he did in Mexico, it was hard labor. But he never complained. He worked hard, saved money, and eventually went back to marry my mom in Mexico. They loved each other so much. They kept every letter they wrote to each other.

After they got married, as was Dad’s vision, he was able to bring her to the U.S. It has always been his most significant source of pride that my two siblings and I were born here – that I had a social security card before I turned five. My father is frugal to this day. We always lived within our means. He had no credit card debt — ever. We sat down to dinner together at 4:00 pm every day. My dad often would say, “I came to this country so that you wouldn’t have blisters on your hands.”

Whether it was Girl Scouts, Little League, spending time at the library, or other extracurricular activities, my dad always knew what was important for his kids. He supported each of our pursuits if it would help us thrive. Sometimes my siblings and I joked that we might not have blisters on our hands, but we had them on our brains.

When I think about my dad’s resilience over his lifetime, I think about the logic model. Like a road map, the logic model illustrates the route to a specific destination. And that’s how my dad has lived. As a kid, he dreamed of a different life – living in the U.S. with someone he loved, successful children, and a happy life. At 86 and very stubborn, he has done precisely that, in that order.

I think about how hard he worked, even as a little kid, and how hot it was in Mexicali where he grew up. He never imposed that on us. When people ask him, “You must be proud of your child?” he responds, “Which one?” He has never made any of his children feel less than the other or incapable in any way. It wasn’t until high school that I understood that people thought girls weren’t as capable as boys. My father has always been so proud.

He still believes in the American dream, and I am proud that he loved himself and his future family enough to overcome the obstacles he undoubtedly experienced. His resilience is a testament to love, hard work, and commitment to family.