“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I keep a pair of World War II Naval dog tags framed in my living room.

They are stamped with the name “James P. Lapp” and represent the impact one man can make.

In April 1985, I was carried to this country by my young parents who were determined to give their son what Mexico could not.

This journey would lead them to the doorstep of a 6’5” blue-eyed 80-year-old white American World War II veteran. James P. Lapp lived alone in a small California town. Meeting “Grandpa,” as I would come to call him, would alter the course of my life.

He taught me to speak English, to celebrate the 4th of July, and to value the sacredness of Thanksgiving; all foreign to a family of Mexican immigrants.

At the 7:30pm nightly dinners he made mandatory, with the fire that comes with having lived in the United States through the 20th century, he taught me about politics, the economy, and issues of moral reasoning. These dinners served as my early education and led me to where I am today.

On March 23, 1995, with the Chavez family at his side, my Grandpa passed away. His legacy was to love regardless of skin color, language, or ideology.

I want to have the same impact on people so diametrically different to me as the Chavez family was to Grandpa.

I will do so with the same fearlessness that brought my parents to his home 28 years ago.

I will live up to the name on those dog tags that will stay framed in my living room forever.

 

— Zuriel Chavez