I was raised in the town of Utuado, Puerto Rico, in a small house with ten siblings. We grew up extremely poor. My mother could afford one pair of shoes for each of us, and they would have to last us the entire year. Towards the end of the year, I had to put cardboard inside the shoes, so the bottom of my feet would not get blisters from the hot surfaces. By the time I was 8, I was shining shoes at the local square with my older brother after school. On weekends we would go to the Post Office and offer to wash people's cars to make extra money to help our family pay for food and other necessities. My other brothers and sisters worked as a collective team to survive. However, we never begged for money or food as this was unacceptable in our household. My name is John Velez, and this is my story.
When I was 12, my mother sent me to live with one of my sisters in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was an opportunity for my mother to get me out of the dire environment I was growing up in. I was able to support myself, even in this new environment with so many obstacles. I did not know the culture, how to speak English, or where to find a job. When I arrived, everything I brought with me fit in a shopping bag, which was not enough to get me through school. That first week after my arrival, I started looking for work, but my sister told me that getting a job at my age would be challenging. My only option was to ask neighbors if they needed help washing their cars or doing other chores at no cost in hopes of getting a tip for school supplies.
At 15, I moved to the Bronx, New York, with my sister. There I was able to become more independent. I worked packing groceries and selling shoes after school and over the weekend. After graduating from high school, I started working two full-time jobs and was able to bring my mother and younger sister to live with me in New York. I was the main provider for my mother and sister at that time, so I had no choice but to work as much as possible. I then became a flight attendant and saw many beautiful countries.
During a trip to Colombia, I had a layover in Puerto Rico due to a flight cancellation that changed my life – I met my spouse, an incredible person and native Oregonian. We lived in New York for a few months before moving to Myrtle Creek, Oregon. Moving to Oregon also allowed me to attend college and become the student government vice president. After college, we moved around Oregon for a while before making a home in Sherwood in 1992. We expanded our family to include Jael, my sister’s 10-month-old infant.
Oregon has given me so many opportunities. I created several small businesses and became a successful independent businessman in real estate. This is one of the reasons I am running to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities I did to become successful in their own way.
John D Velez