Guarding The Dream

Thirty years later, Juan Romero honors R.F.K.

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"It's even more important now," says Juan, referring to the wave of anti-immigrant hysteria that has swept California and much of the nation the past several years. "If I work hard, take care of my family, I won't be a burden on society. That's how I can honor Bobby and keep the Kennedy name alive."

Russell Neu, who hired Juan at his paving company 14 years ago, says he'll stop by the office on a Sunday sometimes and see Juan out in the yard, scrubbing tar off trucks on his own time. "I always tell him to put in for whatever hours he works, and he says, 'No, no, no. It's all right.'"

When he isn't working, Juan is home with Elda and their three daughters, one son and four grandchildren. He says he hopes none of them ever leave the house. In their converted garage they are host to immigrant families who need help getting a start.

Juan says he never kept those famous photos, never talked much about it to his family. But now he feels that he should, no matter how much it hurts. You can argue that the Kennedy name has lost some of its shine, but he doesn't want to hear it. They stood for something, he says. Juan apologizes again for his limitations and wishes he could have done more to honor the Kennedys, to honor Hispanics, to honor his own family.

I tell him he has done more than he knows.

"Make sure this is about Bobby," he says. "This isn't about me."

Steve Lopez writes on this subject at greater length in the current issue of LIFE.

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