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'Thanks to All Who Helped Me Open the Door'

June 28, 1995

The following is an edited version of an autobiographical essay. It was written by a graduating senior for a 12th-grade practical writing class at Los Angeles High School.


My name is Agustin and I was born May 4, 1975, in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the small, beautiful town of Santiago Lachivia. My father is Pascual and my mother is Buenaventura, and both are country people. I am the third child and the first son. My two older sisters, Reina and Antelma, left home when I was very small. I'm very proud of being born in this poor, country family.

My parents taught me the Indian language, my first language, called Zapotecan. After the Indian language, I learned Spanish. Despite my parents' situation, they struggled to send me to school and they encouraged me to succeed. I remember my father saying, "Someday my son will be very distinguished and important."

My father was always proud of me. He struggled to send me to an elementary school, where I studied from first grade to sixth grade. My teachers were so skillful that they taught me how to develop my learning.

When I was in third grade, I discovered that science was important and fun at the same time. I enjoyed working on lab projects with my fellow students. By the end of third grade, I knew what science was about. Every day after school, when my father came back from the farm, I would explain what I learned during the day. He would listen to me attentively. I remember very clearly when he said, "Son, I will help you no matter what happens. I will support you to get a professional career."

At the end of sixth grade, I was 12 years old, and I knew what my family's situation was. We could not afford the cost of my education in the future.

It was about 4:30 p.m. on a bright afternoon in July, 1987, when I told my mother: "Mama, I want to have a family meeting tonight after dinner." She smiled at me. It was a great surprise for her because I never made a suggestion like that before. About 7:30 p.m., my father came home for dinner. While we were eating my mother was looking at me, waiting for what I might say. My brothers and sisters--Rodolfo, Rosalino, Hermelinda and Rosaura--all were looking at me, waiting for me to speak.


Finally the dinner was over, I took a deep breath and said . . . "Mother, father, brothers and sisters, I have a wish. My elementary school is over, but I want to continue my education. I want to develop my knowledge and I want to walk toward my future. I have to travel far from here. I don't know where I am going, I don't know when I'll come back, but I want to go. Some day, I'll become a support for you."

I saw tears in my father's eyes. Sadly he said, "I'm very proud of you and glad to hear what you are saying. After all, my wishes are coming true. This family will miss you a lot, and understands that you are going to be absent for a long time. But you can count on our support, and we will pray to God that our family will be together in the future."

Three days later, my father took me to Tlacolula, a city near Oaxaca. I reached a fine-looking house, and met a family who seemed to be well-off. They owned a small factory for processing and distributing meat. I told them I wanted to continue my education, but didn't have a place to live. They offered to help me in exchange for my helping them; I could work for them while I went to school. My father accepted the deal and thanked them.

One week later, I began my studies at La Secundaria Tecnica. At this school, I completed the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. I enjoyed various subjects: math, social studies, natural science and my favorite, electronics. I met Mr. Casas, my electronics teacher, who is a very important person in my life. Mr. Casas encouraged me to study electronics.

Upon graduation from the ninth grade, I attended the Industrial Technological Center, where I was supposed to start my career. For about six months I studied computer programming. Unfortunately, the school lacked equipment; there weren't enough computers for every student.

Life suddenly seemed very difficult. I was working and studying hard, and my family, who I really missed, was far away. I also began to realize that I was struggling in vain, that I couldn't learn all I needed to know in such a place.

I remembered that my Uncle Silvano and Aunt Huga lived in Los Angeles. They had helped my sister Antelma get to Los Angeles when she was young. Because of my family's economic situation, Antelma had not had the opportunity to get an education; instead she had gone to work.

I returned home and explained to my family that I needed to travel even farther than before. It was hard, but they understood. I asked for help from my uncle and aunt in Los Angeles. Luckily, they agreed to help me. Before I left, my older sister Reina urged me to work and study hard and watch out for violence in the streets and for drugs.

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