Some students go to college, and others may matriculate to college but question “Why go to college”. For some, college is not an option. They work. For Manuel, he never asked “Why go to college” because a postsecondary education was never an option for him. . . . Ready why . . .
(interview conducted by Megan D.)
MAPS has been blessed with a new members of the staff. A senior at Pomona High School, his name is Manuel D. and his optimistic attitude and strong work ethic have been a wonderful addition to the team. Manuel was paired with MAPS 4 College through a Goodwill job program for high school students. Manuel seemed to be truly excited to have the opportunity to work with MAPS and enjoyed the work that he was doing.
Naturally, Sarai asked Manuel what his plans were for college. She was rather surprised to hear him say that he had never thought about going to college. She tried to find out more about Manuel and the background that he came from, but he was still a bit reserved. He gave Sarai a shrug and said, “In my family, we do not go to school. We work.” When he began searching for a job in high school, he said that his grades dropped and he stopped caring about school. He left it at that, but surely Manuel had a deeper story to tell. He had a background and he had potential true potential to succeed in higher education. He just needed to open his mind to the idea of going to college.
As his time passed, Manuel opened up to us more and even told us that it was difficult for him to talk about his problems with others; he usually kept to himself. A breakthrough came one Friday afternoon at the Baldwin Park office. He sat down with Sarai and me and told us about the challenges he had faced throughout high school. Manuel comes from a Mexican-American family. At his high school there is constant violence between African-American and Mexican-American students and drug deals, with items smuggled through pencils, markers, and deodorant. It is almost impossible to escape seeing these things on an every-day basis.
In his freshman year, Manuel soon became affiliated with the Mexican-American gangs at his school. He soon became involved in smoking and drinking. “I used to steal cigarettes from my dad,” Manuel recalls. He also says that he used to drink nearly every night and in such nights, he would get in violent encounters with other gangs. When he did go to school, which was rare, he would sleep through classes or not skip classes to smoke. He considered himself a drop-out by freshman year because he cared so little about school. Manuel became aggressive with his father and mother and even challenged them. It was then, Manuel recalls, that his family stopped caring about what he did. He says, “My parents stopped caring about my grades. My dad used to beat me with a belt [for bad grades]. That was painful, but it showed he cared, right?”
In the gang scene, Manuel recalls that “Every day, somebody from the gang was getting jumped. I got jumped.” During one night of drinking, he was even shot at by members of a different gang whom he had challenged. When he got home, he says, “I found two holes in my shirt where the bullets went through.” Realizing that he could have died, Manuel had an apithamy. He realized that he had to get himself out of the gangs. He ended his late night parties and gang fights. He stopped drinking and smoking. However, at school it was difficult to escape racial tensions.
Despite his separation from the gangs, Manuel spent his lunch hour with many of the gang members who had become his friends. Manuel says that he wanted to be around them simply because they had them the same interests as him, such as taste in music. Manuel says he “felt comfortable” when he was with them. However, many of these friends would smoke marijuana during their lunch hour in an area where there was little security. One afternoon, security officers came and busted the group for smoking marijuana. Manuel was written-up for being with the group even though he said that he did not smoke. The school officials affiliated him with the gangs and seemed to care little about his well-being or success. It was at this point, that he considered officially dropping-out of school; no one seemed to care what he did.
After a short period in adult school, he reentered high school with a new perspective. He was determined to get his grades up so that he could consider joining the army or Coast Guard. Gradually, he brought his grades up from mostly F’s to D’s. He was proud of his accomplishment, but soon he was called into the administrative office. The administrator tried to influence Manuel to leave. Manuel recalls that when he went into the administrator’s office, there was an extensive list of “gangsters and suspected gangsters” that the administrators were determined to get out of the school. The administrators were convinced that Manuel was a gang member and Manuel says, “Administrators said I gotta go.”
Manuel, however, knew that if he dropped out of high school and got only his GED then he could not join the military. He continued through school and was eventually led to MAPS through his search for a job. He says that has enjoyed his work at MAPS and he particularly enjoys the people whom he works with. After his first days with MAPS, Manuel says, “I thought it was pretty fun. I had never been with people like that before…professionals.”
Manuel has begun to truly consider going to college. He is excited about the opportunities available to him through MAPS and he is hopeful about his future success with the program. With Manuel’s growing determination and hard-work ethic, it is truly exciting for the entire staff to see what he will achieve in the years to come.