A well-earned reward
HACE’s annual scholarships help students who contribute to the Latino community
Olga Ramirez was 9 years old when her family moved to Oroville from Durango, Mexico. Like other children of Mexican immigrants, Ramirez and her siblings found it challenging to learn a new language while trying to keep up with math and history.
Now 22, Ramirez, a senior at Chico State majoring in liberal studies and Spanish, is the first one in her family poised to graduate from a four-year college. Ramirez, along with three other students, just received a $1,000 scholarship from the local Hispanic Association for the Community and Education (HACE). The scholarships are awarded based on academics as well as community service.
“The members of HACE, they are role models,” Ramirez said. “They come from a similar background to mine.”
Ramirez credits her parents and teachers with helping her decide to pursue higher education. “My parents were always emphasizing the importance of an education,” she explained. “I had a great elementary school teacher at Oakdale Elementary [in Oroville]. And I was self-motivated, I got good grades, I took advanced-placement courses in high school. I didn’t know for sure that college would be good for me, because nobody around me had been to college, but I thought it might be.”
Ramirez is one of four siblings (her sister attends Sacramento State, and she has two brothers, one a mechanic and the other a junior at Las Plumas High School in Oroville), and lives at home with her family in Oroville. A typical school day sees Ramirez getting up at 6:30 in the morning in order to have time to drive her brother to high school before making the commute in to Chico for a full day of classes, working in the university’s Educational Opportunity Program office, and doing homework before she heads home around 8 p.m.
Her story is not uncommon among first-generation Hispanic students working to “make it” in their new home. During high school and her first few years of college, Ramirez was still helping her parents with English translation and doing errands for them that required a strong command of the language. These days, she said her parents speak English “pretty well.”
Ramirez is driven. Through college, she’s worked in retail and has tutored to make extra money. She’ll graduate this fall and enter the credential program after that. From there she plans to go for her master’s and her doctorate. Ramirez said she eventually wants to help direct educational policy—especially programs like bilingual education and No Child Left Behind.
She’s already doing her part, however, working with EOP on campus to help make higher-ed for low-income and disadvantaged students, many of whom are Hispanic, a realistic goal.
HACE, a nonprofit organization, began on the Chico State campus in 1984, but has evolved over the years into a community group that encompasses Chico and its environs. It includes Chico State and Butte College faculty, staff and students, as well as area professionals.
Ramirez works with EOP Director Chela Mendoza Patterson, who is also chair of HACE’s scholarship committee. Patterson, who has chaired the scholarship committee for the last seven years, describes all of the winners of the scholarship over the years as ‘some very impressive young people.”
Besides Ramirez, HACE scholarship winners for the 2006-07 academic year are Maria Macias, a junior majoring in mathematics; business and marketing senior Ernesto Flores; and Freddy Suarez, a senior majoring in criminal justice.
The HACE scholarship is based on financial need, leadership potential, evidence of giving back to the community—especially the Latino community—and academic achievement. Recipients are recognized for volunteering, tutoring, working, going to school and grades.
In the early days of HACE, scholarships were only $250 each. Some years only one or two scholarships could be given out.
Patterson praised the accomplishments of previous HACE scholarship recipients, including Octavio ‘Angel” Pimentel, who went on to earn a Ph.D. in English and is now an assistant professor in the department of English at Texas State University.
‘Angel has become a role model to other Hispanic students at Chico State,” Patterson said.
Patterson, who has been a member of HACE for 20 years, is working with other members of the group who have benefited from the organization to give back to the community by raising money through the annual baile, a lavish dance that serves as HACE’s only fundraising event of the year. This year’s baile will raise the money necessary to add to donations already received from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Wells Fargo Bank to provide scholarships for the 2007-08 academic year.
Retired Chico State art and art history professor and conceptual artist Manuel Lucero is another formidable Latino role model who belongs to HACE. Lucero, who has been going to the bailes since the 1990s, has been vice president of HACE for the past year.
Lucero—who in 1993 received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and is known for his thought-provoking Bay Area-executed conceptual pieces—is responsible for the design of this year’s baile, from the red-and-green napkins and descriptive menus on the tables to the piñatas and stars dangling overhead.
Making its sixth appearance at the event will be 12-piece Sacramento-based, Caribbean-influenced salsa band Conquista Musical.
The group’s bassist and bandleader Gilbert Roman has special interest in the event, with a daughter attending college. The members of Conquista Musical have shared the stage with such Latin music greats as Tito Puente and Ruben Blades, and perform both originals and lively tunes from the likes of famous Puerto Rican group El Gran Combo and the late Cuban chanteuse Celia Cruz.
“It’s going to be elegant. Everyone gets dressed up,” Lucero said. “All of this year’s recipients are first generation [Americans] who have gone on to college. You need that self-esteem, that vote of self-confidence, that an event like this can bring.”
Mark Lore contributed to this article.