A Long Road From the San Antonio Barrio

John Quiñones has been a colleague of mine at ABC for more than a quarter century and I've known over those years that his own story, in many ways, has been as good as the ones he has told.

So this one is about Quiñones himself, because he has finally written some of it in his first book, "Heroes Among Us." His former occupations include being a shoe-shine boy and migrant laborer. His current occupation is network television correspondent and anchor of the news magazine show "What Would You Do?"


In between those jobs was a long struggle to realize his ambitions.

Born in 1952, Quiñones grew up with two sisters in the Mexican-American barrio on the west side of San Antonio, Texas.

A friend who still lives in the neighborhood, former police officer Don Cortez, remembered how he and Quiñones once shined shoes to help earn money for their families.

"We would hit Guadalupe Street, which was nothing but bars and cantinas," Cortez said.

"And we would charge 10 cents for a shoe," Quiñones said. "We'd go into the bars, because the drunk guys wouldn't realize how much they were tipping you."

Although his family had been in the U.S. for six generations, Quiñones spoke no English until he was six years old and began attending the school down the block from where he lived.

His father, Bruno, was a janitor who earned extra money doing odd jobs, including lawn care. His mother, Maria, cleaned houses. In the tiny Quiñones home, she kept an intricate shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

"Every time I'd go visit, she'd make us kneel down in front of her," Cortez said. "And she'd bless us, both of us. And she'd look at me and say, 'Take care of my son.'"

"She'd hold her hand over our heads," Quiñones said, "to make sure that we were safe and that we would come back."

Both Quiñones and Cortez remember feeling pressure from gangs in their neighborhood.

"It was very dangerous here at night," Quiñones said. "There were drive-bys. People would be watering their lawns and suddenly shots would ring out. There were lots of threats and you were ridiculed if you weren't cool and didn't hang out with them and smoke and drink and carry a knife. It was dangerous and intimidating."

Dreaming of a Better Life

Quiñones remembers climbing often to the roof of his home, which he used as a kind of retreat.

"I would go up there at night, look at the stars, and dream about … getting out of there, having a better life," he said. "When the city had the HemisFair of 1968 -- it was a world's fair here -- they built the Tower of the Americas. To me, it came to symbolize a world out there that was much bigger than the one I was in."

When he did go out into the larger world for the first time as he entered his teens, it was because his father was laid off from work. The family headed north to work as migrant laborers in Michigan and Ohio, picking cherries and tomatoes. Quiñones picked a hundred bushels of tomatoes a day at 35 cents a bushel.

"Kneeling down on the wet ground at five in the morning, my dad looked at me and said, 'Look, do you want to have to work like this for the rest of your life? Or do you want to go to college some day?' It was a no-brainer," Quiñones said.

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