I was born in Monterrey, Mexico. When I was three years old, my family moved to Colonia Dublán, a small town in Mexico where most of the people are members of the Church. We had very few modern conveniences. There was no electricity, just coal oil lamps to light our home. And not many people had indoor bathrooms.
When I was six years old, my family moved to the United States. We loaded everything we owned into a truck and drove to my grandmother’s house in Mesa, Arizona.
I remember standing on her porch with my father when a truck playing music came down the street.
“Dad, what’s that?” I asked. He explained that it was an ice-cream truck, and he gave me money to buy something. I ran over to the truck and said, “I want a paleta (frozen dessert on a stick). I had grown up in Mexico and spoke English and Spanish, but I didn’t know the English word for the thing I wanted. My father told me that I had to ask for a Popsicle.
I remember walking up the steps of my new school on the first day of first grade. When I saw some of the other children crying, I asked my mother, “Why are those kids crying?” My mother had taught us how important education was, so I couldn’t imagine what was so sad about going to school.
I soon learned that in the United States, most children my age had many things that I didn’t have. One of those things was a bike, and I wanted one badly. Somehow, my dad got me a bike for $5. Unfortunately, it had one major defect: it was a girl’s bike! It was humiliating for me to ride it. I found my shiny new dream machine in a mail-order catalogue, and it cost $65. I decided to earn the money to buy the bike myself, so I started working in the cotton fields every day after school. I would drag a long canvas bag up and down the rows of plants, filling it with cotton. Each afternoon, I could usually pick between twenty and forty pounds of cotton. I was paid two cents a pound, so I could usually make at least fifty cents a day.
As the end of the harvest drew near, I realized that I was not going to earn enough money for the bike. I told my dad, and he agreed that if I could raise half the money, he would pay the other half. Even after I had earned my part, the bike didn’t show up immediately. But then on Christmas morning, I got my beautiful new bike. From that experience, I learned that sometimes when we work very hard to reach a goal but fall short of reaching it, we can ask someone for help. Just as my father helped me, our Heavenly Father will help us, too.
Another thing I learned from my dad was the importance of treating women with special respect. Dad never raised his voice to Mother. Although I wasn’t perfect, with four younger sisters, I had a lot of practice. I hope that you young boys will always remember that women—both those who are older and those who are younger than you—deserve special treatment and respect.
My family was always close. We had family prayer, and we ate every meal together. My parents never had much money, but we took vacations to visit our aunts and uncles.
I remember sleeping on the floor with all my cousins. Once my family drove to Mexico City, Mexico, to visit the area where my parents had both served missions before they were married.
When I turned nineteen years old, I attended the University of Arizona. As I pondered and prayed about serving a mission, I soon realized something very important. I realized that I had everything. I don’t mean that I had lots of money or other material things. But I had the important things—good parents and family, the gospel, and the opportunity to get an education. I also realized that I hadn’t done anything to deserve these things. I felt that I somehow needed to repay Heavenly Father for all these blessings. I knew that serving a mission would be one way I could try to do this.
Not long ago, I visited a small branch of the Church in Chiapas, Mexico. The people there speak Tzotzil, which is an ancient Mayan language. I visited the home of a counselor in the branch presidency. His home was a small hut made of rough-sawed pine that was held together by log poles made from eucalyptus trees. The family slept on mats on the dirt floor. The only furniture was a small table and tiny chairs—the size that would be used in a Primary nursery. The women cooked the meals outside. I was most impressed to see hanging on the wall a picture of the Mexico City Mexico Temple and a temple sealing certificate, both beautifully framed.
I also visited the small school that the children of the branch attended. Those children had no TV, no computers, no video games. They ate mostly corn, beans, and rice. But they had the most important thing—loving parents who were sealed in the temple and who were teaching them to follow the prophet.
The toys that you have, the good food that you eat each day, the beautiful school you go to—these are great blessings. But they are not the most important things. The blessings of families, the blessings of teachers who love you and help you learn the gospel—these are the rich, rich blessings that you have. They are the same blessings that those children in Mexico have. These blessings are the most important things.