By Petra Alexander
What does it mean to receive a full scholarship to Harvard, when one third of the students have deserted their studies in this time of pandemic?
This question has been answered by Elizabeth Esteban, a young woman from the Purépecha community in the Eastern Coachella Valley, whose family supports themselves from the work of the fields. She has, indeed, received a scholarship to perhaps the most prestigious university in the United States.
A survey done by Intelligence.com about scholastic desertion in this time of pandemic contained some worrisome information about how much the gap between students with resources and those without has grown. It is estimated that many students were not able to continue their studies in this difficult time, they did not have an appropriate environment, both because of the need for privacy as well as a good Internet connection. The living situations in which many Latinos live, sharing bedrooms and sharing a computer are some of the factors that have made it difficult to persevere. It has also been difficult for young people who work part-time or who have had sick people at home and who have experienced the stress caused by the risk of getting infected and all the safety precautions.
Elizabeth has prepared her college applications amidst numerous difficulties. She is trilingual (English, Spanish and Purépecha), in her family the Purépecha language is spoken and her family lives with the limitations experienced by the farm workers in the Eastern Coachella Valley. In the trailer where her family lives, she finds the best hours to study, and she knows what it means to stay up late editing essays and finishing her homework. She kept up with her studies while struggling with a poor Internet connection, a norm in the region of Thermal-Oasis. Her mother, Cecelia, unable to go to the Guadalupe Shrine in Mecca, kept candles lit on the family altar, always motivating her daughter so that she would not give up on her effort, constantly asking for God’s help, believing that “Sí se puede!” (It can be done!)
A year before, when Congressman Raúl Ruiz visited her high school, Elizabeth was very impressed when she found out that he was also raised in that Valley and that, from those fields, dreams of a better future and working for the community can take you far.
Elizabeth is preparing herself to attend Harvard, she knows that a degree in political science will require great effort. She knows that she represents a minority, her community that is in her heart, which deserves her sacrifices. It is for them that she commits to transforming the future. We congratulate the Esteban family, and we encourage all parents to breathe deeply, so that they will be able to encourage their children to try again. Let us not tire of looking forward and speaking of the future with our children. It is time to share our hopes and ask life to give us second and third opportunities.
Petra Alexander is the Director of Hispanic Affairs for the Diocese of San Bernardino.