LAT: State senator's father recounts years living illegally in the U.S.

July 29, 2013

Senator Lara and parents

State Sen. Ricardo Lara is pictured with his mother, Dolores Lara, and father, Venustiano Lara, at his parents' home in East Los Angeles. Lara's parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and their struggle has influenced how he legislates. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times / February 16, 2013)
By Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO -- Venustiano Lara vividly recalls the moonless night nearly half a century ago when he and six others plunged into a frigid canal near Mexicali as they made their way illegally across the United States border.

"I was scared," said Lara, who was 19 and a poor swimmer. "I barely made it across."

One of the men cried out for help and then disappeared beneath the deep, fast-flowing water. The rest were pushed along by their smuggler and then, soaked and shivering after clearing the canal, ordered into a car.

They sped off into the Sonoran desert for the 500-mile trip to a farm near Fresno, where they would pick cotton or tomatoes for $1.75 an hour and live in sweltering shacks.

Having borrowed $300 from relatives to pay the smuggler, Lara had just a quarter in his pocket.

Forty-six years later, he stood in the state Assembly, tears shining in his eyes. His son, Ricardo, was being sworn in as a lawmaker by the chief justice of the California Supreme Court.

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