Giving a college education to all youths in America

nurse times;”>Editorialby Armando Vazquez

I had just graduated top of the class as a scholar and athlete from McClay Jr. High School, an integrated college prep LAUSD public school  situated in one the toughest barrios of Pacoima. The preceding three years at McClay transformed me from a shy introvert into a confident youth leader and universally respected scholar “jock”.

But that summer of 1966 I was pushed into manhood long before my time.

My older brother joined the Navy to escape our existence of poverty and oppression. He was gone at the age of 17, a high school diploma in one hand and enlistment papers in the other, gone!

As the only son left at home, I had the mandatory responsibility to help my family. So I worked alongside my father the entire summer, 10 to 12 hours a day Monday through Saturday and half day on Sunday, all summer long. I only escaped this existence when I was freed to play baisbol!

I decided to enroll at Verdugo High School, located in the foothills of Tujunga. This high school had a well respected baseball program and would give me the best chance to realize my dream; to become the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. College was nowhere on my radar.

On the first day of high school my best friend, Roger Zukinan, who I not seen for the entire summer, turned his back on me and whispered, “You go to the Mexican side and I’ll stick to my people”. We never spoke again. Throughout that school day all I heard were racist remarks spewed unabated and unchallenged by anyone. I was placed in all the “dumbbell” classes.  Someone forgot to tell the school administration I was a straight A honors scholar. No, in this school I was just another dumb Mexican. I knew that first day of high school I had made the greatest mistake of my young life. But my dream of baseball was much greater than my dread, so I pushed on.  I played out that entire year in that racist hell.  It was the first year that doubt of making it to the “show” first crept into my mind.

San Fernando High School circa 1970

San Fernando High School circa 1970

The following year, 1967, I transferred to San Fernando High, to be apart of the worst baseball program in the state, but I was around friends and away from the cancerous racism. That same year San Fernando high School suffered through a number of race riots, mostly involving Chicano and black youth. It felt that the hate I experienced at Verdugo was following me to San Fernando. I had to choose sides; I was a Mexican, so I stuck to my own. During that same time, I had my only bad year of my baseball career.  I finally walked away from the game I loved.

I started to hang out with the homeboys more.  And the partying became more frequent and my grades suffered. At the lowest point in my life I was called to report to the Los Angeles Army induction center for the mandatory physical readiness for service exam that was part of the rights of passage for every Chicano and black youth back in those tumultuous days.

In the summer of 1969 I continued to work with my father at the Westenburger Orchid Greenhouse plantation. I was thoroughly defeated by the events in my life. I gave in to the inevitable; I would work as an “indoor campesino” for the rest of my life, just like my father. In late August of 1969, I received a letter from the San Fernando Valley State Colleges’ Educational Opportunities Program (EOP). I had been admitted into the college under their affirmative action program. That college admission offer represented a divine gift from God. This lost, insignificant frightened young ghost, who was drifting into oblivion, was resurrected that day. The gift of college changed my entire life and then the purpose of my life.

That is why as an adult I have dedicated my entire life to fight for universal access to higher education for all of our youth. Higher education in America should not be a privilege but an inalienable right for every person in this country. Life is never easy, without education life can be hell. So I will continue, as I have for over four decades, to work hard every day so that our kids are awarded the gift of equal educational access and opportunities to attend college, just like I was in 1969. I have eternal gratitude and am trying mightily to pay it forward.

Armando Vazquez

Armando Vazquez

Armando Vazquez is a retired CEO, Executive Director, Business-Owner, teacher, community builder, group leader with demonstrated work history designing and implementing a variety of business, management, educational and vocational community support programs. Successful organizer of activities designed to promote and advance individual and community. Well-disciplined consensus builder.

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