CAA Scholarship Helps Incoming Freshman Beat the Odds
"The Cousin They Talk About" Hopes to Start a Chain Reaction in the Latino Community
By Fernando Quintero, Public Affairs
"I was looking around and said, 'This is going to be my school.' My teacher said it would be hard," he recalled. "But now my dream has come true."
Vasquez will attend Berkeley this fall, thanks to the California Alumni Association's new Achievement Award.
CAA created the scholarship program in response to alumni concerns about the decline last year in underrepresented minority freshmen -- after Proposition 209 ended state affirmative action programs in enrollment and hiring.
The CAA program aims to enroll California students admitted to Berkeley despite adverse learning or living environments, and to offer financial and counseling assistance throughout their undergraduate careers in order to help them succeed in school. Eleven winners have been selected this year. Awardees will receive a scholarship worth a maximum of $5,700 per year depending on each student's level of need, for up to four years.
"With the erosion of federal grant monies and the rising costs of studying and living in the Bay Area, an education at Berkeley is slipping from the reach of many students from disadvantaged backgrounds," said CAA president Irene Miura. "The achievement award strives to help make Cal accessible to these bright students who deserve to be here."
A senior at Fremont High School in Oakland, Vasquez is the first in his extended family to attend a four-year college.
"We're very proud of Alberto. He has worked very hard to get a good education. He is very happy. And we are very happy for him," his mother, Rosa Marta, said in Spanish.
Vasquez's parents are Mexican immigrants from the state of Jalisco. His father is a day laborer. His mother is a homemaker. Growing up in east Oakland had its share of challenges for the young Berkeley freshman-to-be -- as it did for family and friends.
"I saw my brother go into gangs," said Vasquez, the third of four children. "My sister got good grades until she joined a gang. I knew early on that I had to do something different so that the same thing wouldn't happen to me."
One of his most important lessons on the value of a good education came from his father.
"He took me to work with him one day," recalled Vasquez. "I worked hard, the way he does. At the end of the day, he paid me 20 dollars and then asked, 'Do you want to do this when you grow up?'"
Vasquez decided early on to study hard to go to college. He participated in the Upward Bound program, a year-round academic enrichment program for low-income and first-generation college students in East Bay schools.
Outside of class, Vasquez serves as president of Fremont High's architectural academy and is an active member of the school's La Raza club.
He also makes a point of sharing time and knowledge with others in his community. He volunteers after school at the local library helping children with their homework. He also helped to form a community volunteer center in his neighborhood, which has organized clean-up events, planted a community garden and aided local homeless people.
Vasquez also writes poetry, and recited a poem, "Realize the Truth, Realize the Brown," that he wrote for his high school English class. "If everyone could understand the point of view of a young Latino..." it begins.
Being accepted into Berkeley has made Vasquez feel "real good inside." When he visits his cousins in Los Angeles, "I'm the cousin they talk about," he said.
"I want to start a chain reaction, not only for my Latino community, but for my family and relatives as well."