A Father’s Advice

California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera recalls lessons from his father

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Explore. Make friends. Embrace change.

Speak up.

Sound advice from a hardworking, migrant farmworker whose only son heeded his father’s counsel and today is the California Poet Laureate. Juan Felipe Herrera, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, reminisces about Felipe Emilio Herrera in this Father’s Day video.

“My father was a natural-born leader, a hardworking man with a vision to expand his horizon and the horizon of his family,” recalls Herrera, who is California’s first Hispanic poet laureate.

He was also a magnificent story-teller, a gift that Felipe Emilio Herrera passed along to his son.

“My father used to play the harmonica. It sounded like an orchestra,” Herrera remembers fondly. “He would tell wonderful stories with his harmonica.”

Felipe Emilio Herrera (1882–1964) was born in El Mulato, Chihuahua, Mexico, and came to the United States at age 14. He was a migrant farmworker, dairy farmer, musician and inventor who never attended school, but taught himself English by “buying” words from strangers for a penny.

“He was a self-made man, a very kind man,” Herrera says. “He taught me many lessons: Explore the land. Travel. Meet new peoples and cultures. Value change. Always establish friendship with people you meet. And speak up when necessary.”

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Juan Felipe Herrera
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