May 4, 1992
7 Images

Citizen Ramirez

May 4, 1992
Tonala, Oaxaca, Mexico

The roots of Willie Ramirez’s family runs deep in the Oaxaca, but his grandparents were the last of the clan to thrive in Mexico. They seldom needed anything beyond a donkey ride from their rancho. All of their children and grandchildren migrated to El Norte for work. (Don Bartletti / LAT)
Jan. 22, 1988
Otay Mesa, California

Tijuana’s Colonia Libertad overlooks “The Soccer Field,” a legendary gathering place for migrants who’ve just crossed into the U.S. The dirt road to the Pacific marks the border. For years, Wilfredo Ramirez Sr. and millions of his Mexican countrymen walked across the unfenced boundary. (Don Bartletti / LAT)
Aug. 15, 1989
Carlsbad, California

Willie plucks a guitar after a day of picking tomatoes. Two weeks earlier he had left his wife in Tonala and set up camp with his dad, brother and uncle. He’d earn eight times more as a farmworker here than he did in his old job at a Mexican bank. He ended up living four years in the barren squatters’ camp. (Don Bartletti / LAT)
July 31, 1991
Colonia, Libertad,
Tijuana, Mexico

A couple years earlier, Willie followed his father into California at this spot, where the steel fence ends a few miles east of the official San Ysidro Port of Entry. Of that first illegal entry into California, Willie recently recalled, “We just walked across....It was easy.” (Don Bartletti / LAT)
July 20, 1997
Tijuana, Mexico

Wille earned enough money in the U.S. to buy this small lot in the Mexican hillside neighborhood of Colonia Cumbres. He moved his wife from Oaxaca and, on weekends, built her a two-room house. He would make upgrades with castoffs brought home from construction jobs across the border. (Don Bartletti / LAT)
Aug. 3, 2005
Rancho Santa Fe, California

Willie cuts concrete shingles for a $2-million custom house in one of San Diego’s richest communities. In 1993, Willie was a homeless farmworker when a roofing boss picked him up on a Carlsbad curbside for a day’s work. Now he’s a full-time foreman at the same company. (Don Bartletti / LAT)
March 28, 2006
San Diego, California

Willie cheers along with about 1,500 others from 40 countries who’ve just taken the oath of U.S. citizenship. Seventeen years ago Willie stepped through a gap in the border in an act of desperation. Over the years he’s come to realize his father’s mantra is true: “Opportunity is on the other side.” (Don Bartletti / LAT)