Lessons from mi papá

How my father’s past influenced my political beliefs today.

Brigette Lugo and her father, Fred Jose Lugo.


In my early teen years, I discovered that I was a Latina. I took absolute pride in this newfound identity and clung onto as many of my roots as I could discover. One of the symbols of my culture that absolutely intrigued me was Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine revolutionary who was at one time in cahoots with former president of Cuba, Fidel Castro. I admired him as a symbol for defending the underprivileged. I bought T-shirts with his iconic photo printed on the front; the one with his eyes gazing off into the future. At least that is how I interpreted it. As I continued to idolize this person, my father stood idly by and did not say a word. It would not be long before I dug into my own familial history and discovered my father’s true feelings about my involvement with this figure.

My father, Fred Jose Lugo, 56, came from Nicaragua not knowing a word of English. He came to the U.S. during his late teens from a country which was about to be hit with a revolution and war. He arrived in Los Angeles with a humble background. The youngest of five children, he was raised by my grandmother after being abandoned by their father. In the States, he graduated from South Gate High School in 1983 while maintaining two jobs. Still new to this country and a few years from graduation, he and my grandmother began to worry for their loved ones back in Nicaragua.

There was a revolution on the rise in Nicaragua during the late 70s and early 80s. The dictatorship headed by the Somoza family was put to an end by an assassination at the hands of the new revolutionary party called the Sandinistas — a party with Socialist ideals. This is when my father went into panic mode. With his brother and his brother’s children still in Nicaragua, there was a striking fear within the family in the United States that Nicaragua would turn into another Cuba. Indeed, it was beginning to look like that was the case.

“Kids were being indoctrinated to learn that one bullet plus another bullet is two bullets. And one rifle plus two rifles…that’s three rifles you could use against the United States. It was being taught in schools and we realized that was not good. We needed to bring the family here [to the U.S.,]” my father said.

During that time, there was an official draft which required a young man to join the Sandinista’s military group when he turned 15.

“In order for you to go to the store and buy food you had to bring a booklet. With that booklet you were able to buy only a certain amount of food; rice, beans, sugar. Everything was rationed,” my father told me. “So we saw that and we were like ‘Whoa, what’s gonna happen to Nicaragua?’”

This was the last red flag he needed to have his family sent here. He wanted his nephews to have a better life. My grandmother had already been settled for some years in Los Angeles. She planted the idea of having my teenage cousins brought to the United States with my uncle. My father agreed. My uncle, having been a strong supporter of the Sandinista government was livid. His mentality later changed when my grandmother, father and other uncles convinced him that these boys would get nowhere with dodging and shooting bullets for a political party they were forced to support. With that, my uncle agreed with the plan to send my cousins here to Los Angeles, and did the same with his two younger children later on. They are now adults ranging in ages from early 30s to mid 40s who have their own families. I am thankful for my grandmother who saw that opportunity for the next generation was in a democratic, free land and I now am able to spend time with my cousin’s children who are the fruit of my grandmother’s idea of freedom.

My dad’s story hit me hard. I felt like I had betrayed the very culture I was beginning to discover. I knew he did not have concerns about the Communist party in Nicaragua because he was a conservative Republican. It is the party Latinos who flee from Communist’s regimes turn to when they establish themselves in the United States. This was not the case for my father. It all went back to family, safety, and freedom.

As the years have gone by, I realized that this was the very reason why my father has the political beliefs he has now. My father and I found ourselves connecting once again during this presidential race. Obviously, we do not support the anti-immigrant sentiment that Republican candidate Donald Trump has been promoting.

On the other side of the arena however, I would listen to Bernie Sanders’ speeches and carefully analyze what he had planned. One thing that struck me was his use of the word “revolution.” It is what he has come to be known for in the media and among his supporters, and it is a constant refrain thrown around at his rallies. I had to ask myself, “Why would we need a revolution in the free world?” And then I thought of my father. He did not want to be limited. This man wanted to be free. He escaped a revolution to live a better and prosperous life. This is what convinced me that as a Democrat I was not going to support this candidate.

My father is not a Sanders supporter.

This country has brought opportunity to my father since he arrived as a teenager. He studied hard speaking only Spanish. Through hard work he quickly dominated the English language, graduated from South Gate High School in 1983, all while maintaining two jobs. Shortly after, he met my mother and they moved to the city of Covina. My father had ambition and determination. I remember walking into our garage as a preteen and seeing some television monitors and keyboards on a desk. This was the beginning of my father’s current media company, Latino TV. He is the producer and creator of television shows that profile different aspects of the cultures in El Salvador and Guatemala. To see my father’s success grow from such humble beginnings to his current success makes me so proud of him. I know his drive started before he left Nicaragua but it is because of his goal for a better life that he is where he is today.

Sanders, in his and my opinion, has farfetched ideals that would not fit the mold of republic/democracy of a country like The United States of America. This is accompanied by the fact that Sanders has ideas that parallel Socialist ideas and this is exactly the type of political party that took over Nicaragua in the late 70s. Also, as a person of color and a registered Democrat, my father is against anything and everything Republican candidate Donald Trump stands for. He supports Hillary Clinton. When I asked him how he feels about this political climate, he said, “I think it’s going to be a race that a lot of people will never forget; and we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow. What a political year that was.’”

Once again, as I did during my younger years, I looked to my father’s past to dictate my future. The fact that a Socialist government came so close to tearing my family apart, I could not support a candidate like Bernie Sanders who supports this party. This is not to say I am against certain ideals the party stands for, like equality. However, when I look back to what my family endured, I do not feel that a candidate like Sanders would be best for a country filled with people that believe in working hard to achieve what they want, when they want. I feel Socialism is the opposite of that.

To say that my father has had a heavy influence on me throughout my life is an understatement; I look like him, I have some of his mannerisms, and I go to him for advice. But by far, his strongest influence has been on my political journey. As I grew over the years, so did my outlook on politics and the beliefs that I advocate for as a first-generation Latina. My sense of self, culture, and so much more stem not just from my father, but from a gift he gave and continues to give me as we both continue to grow politically and emotionally: Pride.