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He Just Said No and the Nation Took Notice

August 06, 1992|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nothing could have prepared Sixto Perez for the white stretch limousine that rolled up to his La Puente trailer home last month to whisk him off to Hollywood to appear on "The Arsenio Hall Show."

Teachers say Sixto, 12, often lived on his free school lunches. His father, a migrant farm worker, sporadically sent home money to the family of six children. The boy did odd jobs after school to help buy milk and tennis shoes for his little brother.

Sixto became an instant celebrity this summer when the public learned that he had turned down a $100 offer from a drug dealer to sell cocaine at his school, Los Robles Elementary in Hacienda Heights.

When people heard what the boy with holes in his sneakers and hunger in his belly had done, their hearts went out to him. Money, food and clothes poured in.

A TV movie has been proposed. Specialists have offered to help Sixto, who is dyslexic and very bright. Within a week, he received more than 200 letters with $10,543 in donations from as far as Tennessee. The Bank of California set up a trust fund for his education.

Frank Sinatra's assistant called, saying her boss wanted to send a donation. A Chatsworth businessman who has two dyslexic children sent $3,000. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan wrote to congratulate Sixto for "just saying no."

Most contributors wrote that they wanted to reward Sixto's integrity. Jim Tighe of Beverly Hills sent Sixto $50 to buy a toy or some small necessity. "I was deeply touched," Tighe wrote. "Please tell Sixto to stay in school and to get as much education as possible."

Bill Hutton, a deputy with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, sent a check and praised Sixto's parents "for building this boy's moral structure." Sixto, who is shy but strong-willed, says he wants to be an auto mechanic. The trust fund will support him through trade school. Bank spokesman Bob Garon said Sixto's family can also tap it for living expenses.

Meanwhile, things are looking up for his father too: Pedro Perez has received an offer to work at a print shop in North Hollywood.

Sixto, however, is unimpressed with the continuing media attention. "I get tired of answering questions; I don't like all those cameras," Sixto said, frowning. His mother, Ifigenia Perez, is more sagacious. "I tell him, Sixto, this has brought good things for our family. They are honoring you."

Sixto's moment of truth occurred last fall as he swept in front of a mini-mart near his home, a job that pays $20 a week. The drug dealer rode up on a bike, and flashed a wad of bills and some cocaine, asking him to sell drugs.

But Sixto, who knew the dangers of drugs from a school program called SANE (Substance Abuse Narcotics Education), run by sheriff's deputies, didn't think twice.

"I only make a little bit of money but I do it honestly," Sixto told the drug dealer, according to his teacher, Jeanie Thiessen.

Fame has not made Sixto any less generous. Cruising back home from Hollywood after getting $250 from Arsenio Hall, the boy invited his mother, his teacher and limo driver Jaime Flores to a hamburger restaurant.

"Do you only take rich people for rides?" Sixto asked Flores as they ate. The driver answered that it was mostly rich people who could afford limousines. Sixto asked why the man had given him a ride.

"Well, Sixto," the driver said. "It's because you have a rich heart."

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