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Christina Rosales, Valerio Cabrera and Miriam Rosales have a BIG Goal – they want to earn scholarships so they can attend and graduate from college.
Students at Collins High School, they received the spark after attending a state Hispanic leadership conference this summer in Lexington, where they spent a week in the dorms at the Bluegrass Community Technical College. Their college degrees would be the first for their families – even when Valerio graduates from high school would be the first for his family.
He is a senior who was born in Rhode Island, and Christina, a junior, is a native of Virginia. Miriam, a sophomore, came to Kentucky from Mexico “for a better life. We had a very small home, and the bathroom was in a building outside.”
The three were among 50 students at the conference, including one African-American. “It only cost forty dollars and allowed me to experience new things,” Christina said.
Miriam said she liked staying in the dorms because “it let me feel how it would be to go to college.”
Christina said she was motivated because of the lecture sessions that shared more about the Chicano culture and heroes such as Bobby Verdugo Jr. Both girls said they vividly remembered the hardship story of his being paddled if he spoke Spanish in school or that he couldn’t use the restrooms.
He and three teenagers representing four high schools in the Los Angeles area staged a walkout in 1968. By the end of the week, more than 15,000 students had walked out of classrooms throughout the city in solidarity with the demands of the striking students.
“He simply wanted freedom,” Miriam said.
Said Christina: “He deserved rights and not to be treated bad because he was Hispanic.”
Valerio said he was impressed with the story of Verdugo after watching the movie Walkoutat the conference and then sitting in on a Skype conversation with the activist.
All three said they connected on some level to the scenarios shared in the conversations with Verdugo.
None of their parents knows very much English. All three learned to speak in school even though, as Christina recalled, “It was hard. I struggled to keep both languages apart in my head.”
Valerio said it’s important, though, so “each other can understand each other and be able to communicate, like in getting a job.”
Valerio said having attended the conference has motivated him. “I looked on the web to apply for scholarships, so I can go to college,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have just graduated from high school and gotten a job. Now I want to be an engineer or architect.”
Christina said she wants to be a nurse practitioner, and wile Miriam said she dreams of being a professional dancer.
Valerio and Christina are involved in Hispanic Achievers at Collins, and Miriam said she plans to join this year. Valerio said they believe they can be successful because of their personal drives and because of the openness of the teachers “who help us understand the concepts and allow us to go straight to them to ask questions.”
Duanne B. Puckett is public relations coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools.