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Wish recipient Pat operating bulldozer

Pat Bulldozes through Barriers

Have you ever wanted to follow your dreams but felt hindered by circumstances outside your control?

That’s a significant theme that Pat, age 66, explores in her writing. Pat is finishing her first novel, a piece of fiction based on her experiences growing up Chicana in East Los Angeles during the 1960s and 70s.

Since she was young, Pat felt surrounded by expectations based on her gender, often feeling pushed to go in one direction when she wanted to go in another. She did not like what she was “supposed to do”; instead, she loved watching her uncles and friends work on their motorcycles.

“I never wanted to be a cheerleader,” she said. “I always loved anything mechanical, but my only choice was home economics. I never wanted to be stuck in the kitchen.”

As she grew older, she wanted to explore mechanical careers or paths like joining the Navy but continued to meet obstacles along the way, feeling stuck as a woman in a male-dominated world. But instead of changing herself to fit the expected norms, it only made her yearn to break the mold even more.

Today, Pat uses her painful past as an inspiration for her writing. She documents her experiences and eventual escape from “the beauty and brutality of the barrio lifestyle.” Barrios or varrios are a distinct feature of East Los Angeles, a name adopted from the Spanish word “barrio,” meaning neighborhood, to describe sub-societies or gangs.

Wish recipient Pat stands with daughter outside John Deere Davenport Works
Heinz and Gunar stand in front of Cessna airplane and smile

It was here that Pat found a way to express a new self-identity. At age 15, she fell in love with motorcycles; she still calls herself a “motorcycle-riding butch” to this day. Although she created deep relationships within the community, being a part of the barrio came with strict social hierarchies and expectations.

“At the time, it seemed like a way to fight the power,” she said. “But what ends up happening is it gets hard to get out of that lifestyle and thinking.”

When Pat became more self-aware of her sexuality, she came out when she was 17. But she “didn’t fit in anymore” and was rejected by her barrio.

“It became apparent that I wasn’t like the other girls,” she said. “It was a painful process to go from absolute acceptance to ‘no, we can’t have you.’ My book deals with a lot of that.”

Pat stayed true to herself and got out of the barrio—a long and painful process. After losing her community, Pat struggled with self-acceptance. She was in a dark place until she got sober in 1993. Although she had no formal education in writing, Pat began documenting her life story and found writing to be very therapeutic. All the voices and experiences from the barrio came alive in her stories.

Writing transformed Pat’s life. In 2005, she found a new community within the Macondo Writer’s Workshop. Founded in 1995 by writer Sandra Cisneros, Macondo brings together socially engaged writers from all genres who focus on activism in their writing and life to “work on geographic, cultural, economic, gender, and spiritual borders.”

Macondo is the kind of community Pat had been searching for all along. As a “Macondonista,” she combines her urge for activism with her passion for writing. Pat has built bonds with fellow writers, empowering her to share her experiences in hopes of making a change for a better world. She continues to volunteer and serves on the Board to plan the annual Writer’s Workshop.

Heinz and his son hold hands and smile broadly after their airplane ride
Heinz sitting inside Cessna airplane before takeoff
Heinz stands in front of Cessna airplane before his ride

Despite finding her calling, there is still a part of Pat that wants to do the things she was not allowed to do—the mechanical dreams of her past, like learning about hydraulics or operating machinery.

To Pat, this is not just about proving something to herself—it’s about showing that women can work in male-dominated fields.

When we heard Pat’s story, we were thrilled at the chance to help her have this fulfilling experience.

Wish of a Lifetime worked with John Deere to send Pat and her daughter Alicia to John Deere Davenport Works, the iconic manufacturer of large-scale equipment and machines. Together, the pair explored the facility, which spans over 2.2 million square feet and is home to a production facility, training center, and shipping facility.

“It was out of this world,” Pat said. “We were treated so well… I had the most fun—everything was just fantastic!”

But the real magic happened at the training center, where Pat learned what goes into operating heavy machinery. Finally, she could put her mechanical mind to work. She received a detailed demonstration on operating a bulldozer. “They explained everything to me,” she said. “It made me feel capable!”

After careful preparation, Pat had the chance to drive the bulldozer herself.

She quickly realized this was not a task that just anyone could do: “As soon as I got in it and went a little ways, I realized there is skill and experience that goes into it!”

Sharing the day with her daughter made the experience even more meaningful.

“To see the look on my daughter’s face—she looked so happy knowing that I was doing something I have always wanted to do!”

By being unapologetically herself, Pat hopes that her story will inspire others to stay true to themselves, regardless of how painful that can be. She expressed how positively this wish has impacted her.

“Right from the get-go, you have always made me feel like I mattered,” she said. “I want everyone to know how much it meant to me…I never in my wildest dreams thought I would do this.”

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Colleen and her daughter laugh as they walk together along the ocean

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