Blogger’s note: This is the 28th installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
Feeling nostalgic, I drove the familiar route that I used to walk as a teenager: right on White Road out of the school parking lot, left on Alum Rock Avenue through the Alum Rock Village, three blocks up Alum Rock Avenue, then a right on Viewmont Avenue. Viewmont Avenue was different than it was when I was a kid, but in many ways it was just the same.
The families I grew up with were all gone with exception of the Ornelas family who lived across the street at 49 Viewmont. Tony Ornelas was my godfather for Confirmation, his wife Marty served as godmother to my little sister Sisi for her First Communion, and I went to school with their kids. Behind the wheel of a late model BMW sedan and wearing a business suit, I felt an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment as I slowly drove past the small tract homes of my childhood.
I continued through the east side on my way home passing more familiar places: right turn on Rose Avenue and left onto Dale Drive where the Alvarez, Moreno, Furlow, and Garcia families used to live and the Rodriguez family still lived. Then I made a left on East Hills Drive driving past the elementary school I attended before turning right on Meadow Lane where my boyhood friend Rudy lived.
When I passed his house on Meadow Lane, I was reminded of how long it had been since I had seen him, or even talked to him. We had spent many a day and night at that house drinking and partying without any concern for the future. I drove on toward my house in the Evergreen Valley where the homes were bigger, the streets wider, and the roadways lined by trees, where many east side kids moved when they became more financially secure.
During the fifteen minute drive home, still feeling the warm glow of a busy day filled with accomplishment, I reflected on my life. It had been a rollercoaster for sure, and now it was clearly on the upswing.
Several months after my triumphant return to James Lick High School’s graduation, the school board appointed me president of the board for 2010. Once again, drive and ambition would dominate my life, and the New Year started at full throttle. In my role as school board president, I could set the district’s agenda for the year.
A student group, Californians for Justice, had been lobbying the board for over five years to institute a policy to make graduation requirements parallel to college entrance requirements called the “A-G Initiative.” Now, as president of the board, I had the ability to do that, and if successful, I could further solidify my chances to win the election in November.
The A-G Initiative became the centerpiece of my State of the District Address in January 2010, which I delivered to an overflow crowd at James lick High School. In spite of the teachers union’s aggressive and underhanded behind-the-scenes fight against the initiative, I enlisted the support of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to educate the community on the merits of the initiative and put together a coalition of students, parents, and public officials to campaign for its passage.
The upcoming summer would surely be challenging. The teacher’s union had recruited a disgruntled former district administrator to challenge me in the general election scheduled for November, so I needed to prepare for a full-blown campaign. The final decision about what was left of my parent’s estate, a rental house they owned, created friction in our family. The pressure and stress were almost unbearable, but this is exactly what I sought since returning to college, and I was having fun.
Sandra continued to express concern about how the pace was taking a toll on me. But I didn’t listen. I had failures to overcome, ambition, and energy. Sandra was right though, I was exhausted and the only thing that carried me through each day was the adrenalin fueled by my drive to succeed and three Starbucks double lattes per day.
Later that spring, my political prospects got a boost. Steve Poizner, a millionaire Republican candidate for governor of California wrote a book denigrating Mt. Pleasant High, a school located in the district I represented in east San Jose. In a detailed letter citing California law against using public school facilities for political purposes, I publicly chastised the gubernatorial candidate and prohibited him from appearing for a scheduled campaign stop on the Mt. Pleasant campus.
Poizner canceled his appearance at the school, but kept a scheduled book-signing at a local Barnes and Noble bookstore. With over 100 community members, Mt. Pleasant students, faculty, and alumni, I awaited the candidate’s arrival at the bookstore. Surrounded by his entourage, Poizner entered the store through a side entrance to avoid the crowd.
Waiting for him at the door of the side entrance, I demanded that he respond to the negative stereotypes about Latino kids, the east side, and Mt. Pleasant high school described in his book as news reporters and their cameras covered our brief exchange. The episode made statewide news, and the east side community recognized me as a defender of the community. That evening left me with a greater sense of ambition and inspired me to worker harder.