Tag Archives: East San Jose

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #17)

The newlyweds hanging out with Mickey during the summer of 1991 (Eddie & Sandra García Family photo)
The newlyweds hanging out with Mickey during the summer of 1991
(Eddie & Sandra García Family photo)

Sandra and I rented a small one bedroom apartment in the east foothills, not far from Alum Rock Park and the expensive houses up the hill.  She was in her first year as an elementary school teacher and I taught Spanish to pre-school kids at a private elementary school/day care center.  It was a job that didn’t require a college degree and paid next to nothing.  I also coached basketball at City College and made extra money tutoring the basketball players.  We were able to scrape by financially and married life was treating me well.

For the first time since I was a teenager I felt a sense of accomplishment and stability, this time without the brashness and bravado of one of the big men on campus.  Soon after the basketball season ended, Sandra and I made the decision that I should return to San Jose State on a full-time basis and put my career as a basketball coach on hold until I earned my bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.

I had been taking courses at State here and there for a couple of years to meet reinstatement eligibility to the university and to remove the academic disqualification from my record, so I was ready to submit an application for acceptance.  When a letter from San Jose State arrived in the mail, I anxiously opened the envelope, read the letter, and let out a huge sigh of relief.  My failed academic record had been cleared, and I was officially a college student once again.

The next day, a Saturday, Eddie Velez and I were working on a side job with Mr. Peralta replacing sidewalks at an apartment complex, but I wasn’t participating in the usual banter about sports, politics, the weather, and the aches and pains that come with construction work.  My mind was spinning with thoughts about my past failures, my new opportunity, and my second, and perhaps, last chance to redeem myself by earning a college degree and pursuing my dream of being a teacher and a coach.  Right then and there, I decided that I would work harder than ever in college to stay focused on the prize.

Because the acceptance letter arrived just days before classes were to begin, I had to sit in on the classes I wanted to secure a space before I could actually register.  It would be a tedious process that required patience and perseverance.  With a determination I never had before, I sat in class after class, cajoled professors to allow me to stay, and registered for a full load of classes to qualify as a full-time student.  I threw myself into my schoolwork, finishing projects, writing papers, and completing reading assignments ahead of schedule.

Early that first semester, I ran into a mental roadblock that could have compromised the entire effort; I realized that I was almost ten years older than my classmates in first year general education courses.  I started to doubt myself, I questioned my decision to drop everything to return to school, and I felt out of place as a weathered twenty-seven year old man among bright, young, and eager college students.

I shared these sentiments with a professor, Dr. Randall Jimenez, with whom I had developed a good relationship in his freshman communications course.  He told me that I had a natural talent for public speaking and using words to persuade and lead others.  Then he asked me how old I was and when did I anticipate on finishing my degree, and I responded that I hoped to graduate by my thirtieth birthday.  He said with good health and God’s will I would be thirty years old, so I had to decide whether I wanted to be thirty years old with a college degree or thirty years old without one; the choice was mine and mine alone.

From that day on I had a laser focus toward achieving success at the highest level possible, as a student and in my future career as an educator and basketball coach.  To help Sandra with living expenses, I spent the next three years tutoring freshman for the professor’s public speaking courses.  I ran into Dr. Jimenez two decades later, and with a bear hug and heartfelt smile, he mentioned how happy he was to see me, and that he had followed my career and medical problems in the newspaper.

I reminded him of and thanked him for the wise words he imparted on me that day early in my return to college.  He thanked me for listening because he knew that I would use my gift for public speaking to make an impact in people’s lives.  His wise advice twenty-one years before sent my college career and the professional life that was to follow into high gear.

For the next three years, I was a full-time student and part-time homemaker.  After that first semester, I met with an advisor on campus, selected history as my major, and mapped out the schedule of classes I would need to graduate by the time I was thirty years old.  At home, in between reading and writing assignments, I washed clothes, kept our little apartment clean, and experimented making different meals so dinner would be ready when Sandra got home from a long day with her students.

More often than not, my experiments would go badly and we would end up at one of the mom and pop restaurants or fast food joints that dotted our new neighborhood.  In addition to my studies and tutoring for the professor’s public speaking courses, I worked as a referee for intramural sports at San Jose State and tutored a neighborhood kid to further supplement Sandra’s teaching salary.  I was absolutely dedicated to my studies, devouring books faster than professors could assign them; reading in the laundry room at our apartment complex or at the kitchen counter while preparing another disastrous meal.

East Hills Little League: Birthplace of a Lifelong Passion

Tire Outlet #2 - East Hills Little League Farm Division - 1971 (García Family Photo)
Tire Outlet #2 – East Hills Little League Farm Division – 1971
(García Family Photo)

I got the “Throwback Thursday” bug last week on Facebook and posted a photo from 1971 of my first little league team, Tire Outlet #2. Those were the days when sponsors were team names, rather than a using the name a professional major league team. Rich Archuleta, an old friend from those days, commented on Facebook that I “really brought back a flood of memories with this picture.” Boy was he right!

I played baseball at East Hills Little League in east San Jose for six years from 1971-1976. It was an era before parents saw youth sports as a ticket to a college scholarship, glory, and potential riches as a professional athlete. As a little leaguer, there was no pressure to meet with a batting coach for weekly lessons at the batting cage, compete on a travel team, and equip ourselves with the best high-tech gear available. We just played baseball.

During those six years, we were Tire Outlet #2, Imwalle Farms (there was a giant red and white pumpkin on our red-sleeved jerseys), and the East Valley Lions Club. My last season, when I was 12 years old, I was the winning pitcher in the major division championship game. There were no full uniforms (until the major division), bat bags, cleats, or customized gloves and helmets. Baseball has always been part of my life and playing at East Hills Little League started that lifelong love of our national pastime.

I still remember the day that my mom took me to register for little league at August Boeger Middle School. The registration fee was $5.00 and a book of S&H Green Stamps or Blue Chip Stamps. For that fee, we got a baseball cap with “EH” in block letters across the front, a shirt, and a 20-game schedule. I was placed in the “Red” organization. Due to an ordering error, we wore blue shirts that first year.

The Red teams were a family affair led by the Marquez Family. Phil Marquez, Jr. was our manager, Mrs. Marquez was team mom, Larry and Ernie “Nesto” Marquez were our sluggers, and Mr. Marquez, a deacon at Guadalupe Church, was head cheerleader in charge. Junior was a great coach who has stayed involved with youth baseball or softball for 40 years, winning championships at every level including varsity softball at Mt. Pleasant High School. He’s a true east side legend.

Opening Day always started with a parade that wound its way through the east side from Payless Drug Store on Capitol Avenue to the league’s fields. Dads who had pick-up trucks carried the players and honked horns as the procession slowly drove by neighborhoods. Once there, the teams would file onto the major league division field that had a dirt infield, home run fence, electronic school board, and pitching mound. The little kids couldn’t wait to play on that field.

While I’m sure we all had dreams of playing in the Big Leagues, that wasn’t the goal. The reason we went to practice every day was to play ball. Some of us went on to play in high school, a few others played in college, and one kid made it to the majors. Kenny Williams played for the Chicago White Sox and later became the franchise’s general manager. I’ll never forget watching Kenny on TV, as general manager, when the Sox won the World Series in 2005.

Although I’ll never know what it’s like to be a major leaguer, I made long-lasting friendships playing baseball. I stay in contact with many fellow little leaguers and high school teammates are still some of my closest friends. Rudy Bryand, my boyhood friend and best man in my wedding, and I met playing sandlot baseball during lunchtime in middle school. He sat by my family’s side for 100 days when I was in ICU fighting for my life.

My dad shared my passion for baseball and taught me how to pitch and play the infield. He never missed a game from little league through high school. He took me to my first major league game in 1971 to see the Dodgers play the Giants at Candlestick Park. I can still name the starting line-up from that Giants team that included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal. I wanted to pitch with a high kick like Marichal, and I made the sign of the cross before batting like second baseman Tito Fuentes.

That passion has now passed onto my family. When my daughter Erica played little league, I managed the team, Sandra helped me stay organized, and my daughter Marisa was the Director of Equipment Management, my fancy name for the bat and ball girl. When Edgar Renteria hit a home run to give the Giants their first World Series win in San Francisco, the four of us were together hugging and high-fiving.

Posting that photo reminded me about the important things in life. For me, playing baseball wasn’t a means to a college scholarship or a profession. Baseball gave me a common bond with my dad, a bond that has extended to my daughters. Baseball has been the centerpiece of many lifelong friendships. And it all started on the fields of East Hill Little League.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #15)

The Peralta Family with Nana Encarnación, ca. 1980 (Peralta Family Photo)
The Peralta Family and Nana Encarnación,          circa 1980
(Peralta Family Photo)

Sandra’s oldest sister Valerie was born in Fresno, California, in 1961, just before Fausto and Connie moved to San Jose.  She was an only child for five years and thrived under the attention paid to her by her parents.  She grew to be a strong-willed girl who did well in school and participated in the cheerleading squad in high school and graduated from college with a degree in computer science.  She is a loyal sister who is always available to lend moral support.

The birth of Kimberley, the third Peralta daughter, came three years after Sandra in 1969.  Like her older sisters, Kimberley did well in the classroom and participated in after-school activities such as the marching band.  Kimberley has a nurturing and faithful character who seeks compromise and accommodation whenever possible.  She completed her college studies in business administration partly to help her father achieve the dream of having a businesswoman in the family.

The youngest of the Peralta clan from Silver Creek High School is Shelley, born exactly ten years after Valerie on December 28, 1971.  Shelley, who earned her college degree in social work, is unassumingly intelligent, yet boisterous and independent with a fiery spirit that can be witty in one instance and cynical the next.  All four sisters have one trait in common: they are intensely loyal to their own individual families, and to each other, their parents, and extended family and friends.

Once Sandra and I started dating on a regular basis, I realized that acceptance to the family required developing a relationship with each sister on a one-on-one basis in addition to building trust with Sandra’s parents.  Although this was a tall order for a young man mired in his failures and ambiguous future, my upbringing centered on respect and integrity and my accommodating personality, not to mention my absolute adoration of Sandra, set the foundation for my relationship with the Peralta family.

My relationship with Mr. Peralta seemed to begin almost instantaneously one Sunday over a beer when I told him that my grandmother Joaquina was born in Sahuaripa, a village just over the mountains from his hometown; seventy kilometers as the bird flies, but an eight-hour drive through the rugged mountains of Sonora, Mexico.  Although my Spanish is about as good as his English, we hit it off right away.  Sandra had to drive me home that day because I drank a few too many beers and participated in my fair share of storytelling.

With Mrs. Peralta, I learned quickly that I would earn trust and acceptance by respecting her home and her daughters, which, with the exception of one early verbal scrap with Shelley, I was able to accomplish soon after I started to frequently visit Santiago Avenue.  Valerie had been married for several months before Sandra made that birthday cake for me, so she wasn’t living at the house on Santiago Avenue when I started to see Sandra regularly. My relationship with Valerie has always been one based on respect, understanding, and acceptance of one another.

Kimberley and Shelley are my de facto little sisters, I served as an open ear to listen to their adolescent problems when they were younger and still provide counsel to them as adults.  Due to our similar accommodating personalities, Kimberley and I always got along just fine, and although Shelley and I had that early altercation, we grew to admire and care for each other as siblings sharing the qualities of a quick wit and a sarcastic tongue.

Over the years, I also developed deep and strong relationships with the Peralta girls’ husbands.  Valerie’s husband Eddie Velez and I became close as we were the “big brothers” who sometimes worked with Mr. Peralta on side jobs to make extra money and helped each other with household projects.  He’s the handyman of the group, so he’s always available to help with a bad electrical fuse, cable TV connection, or nagging computer problem.  Both of us are loyal San Francisco Giants and 49ers fans, so baseball and football seasons always prove to be fun.

When Kimberley and her husband Miguel Rocha were dating in college, she turned to me often for advice, and once I got to know Miguel, we soon learned that we both shared the same intense ambition of achieving success at the highest level possible, he as a businessman and I in politics.  I love picking his brain and sharing ideas on how we could come up with a successful business plan or two.  We’re both natural salesmen (some would say bullshitters) and I’m sure it’s hilarious watching us trying to sell each other on an idea.

Shelley’s husband, Pancho Leyva, and I have a passion for sports, and in our younger days, we were a mischievous team when the beer started flowing.  Perhaps our best time together was when he and I sat a few rows behind home plate at AT&T Park the night San Francisco Giants home run king Barry Bonds hit his 500th homerun against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I’ll never forget watching Pancho, the die-hard, blue-bleeding Dodger faithful, high-fiving Giants fans and enthusiastically waving an orange towel in recognition of Bonds’ historic achievement.

I have a true affection for each of them, and together we are about as close as any four brothers could be.  Sandra’s parents, her three sisters, and my three compadres would play a major role in the events that unfolded in the summer of 2010.


Next Week: My relationship with Sandra continues to grow and I find the courage to ask her to get married.

Let’s Start a “Courageous Conversation”

Book cover for "Courageous Conversations About Race" (courtesy of Google Books)
Book cover for “Courageous Conversations About Race”
(courtesy of Google Books)

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten classroom at a school on the east side. I was able to see an excellent teacher at work. Just holding the attention of energetic five-year-olds seemed like a tall order. The teacher was engaging and positive as she led the students through a math exercise. Some kids were attentive, others were restless, and most were somewhere in between. What impressed me most was that the teacher worked hard to involve each student.

I witnessed the teacher practicing what educational equity experts call “meeting students where they are.” In other words, the teacher didn’t expect every student to be the same and she made adjustments for each student’s strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, as an education blogger and former school trustee, I’ve heard many other teachers express frustration that students don’t come to school ready to learn.

So what does “ready to learn” mean? Essentially, it describes the model student: conscientious, organized, and prepared to learn every day. This must start at home, the argument goes. With that reasoning, some educators believe that high academic achievement could become a reality because the school system would be able to do what it is designed to do: teach.

Unfortunately, that’s just not real life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was conscientious, organized, and prepared? That would eliminate most of the world’s problems for sure. The reality is that students, like all people, come in all colors, cultures, sizes, intellectual abilities, and social classes. Despite this diversity, every student can succeed if school systems truly understood and accepted that everyone is different.

In their insightful book about equity in education, Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton use meticulous research to demonstrate that society, school systems, education leaders, and classroom teachers more times than not prejudge students based on race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This results in practices that marginalize students of color and sets them on a course that discourages a future college education.

All too often the school system and educators dismiss kids of color with the cop-out that “college isn’t for everyone.” In response to my post last week, several readers shared with me their own experiences with this discouraging phrase (click on https://esereport.com/2014/03/17/college-can-change-your-life/ to read last week’s blog). One reader recounted how her son’s high school counselor encouraged him to be a truck driver because he could make good money without a college education.

In his 2009 report on closing the achievement gap, former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recognized this problem and recommended culturally relevant professional development as a solution (click on http://svefoundation.org/svefoundation/files/p16_ctag_report.pdf to read Superintendent O’Connell’s report). Unfortunately, few school districts have attempted to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to implement this recommendation.

Why is this? To even start thinking about implementing a culturally relevant professional development program, school systems must first acknowledge that racial and cultural bias actually exists.  Singleton and Linton write that talking about these biases is “a difficult conversation, one that clearly troubles educators and can make everyone downright uncomfortable.” It’s hard for good people to believe that they hold such biases.

One would think that in a place as diverse as Silicon Valley, having this conversation would be easy. But it’s not. I’ve discussed this issue with several superintendents who have implemented equity and culturally relevant professional development programs in their districts. In those initiatives, teachers, staff, and the school communities were skeptical and resistant to even begin the conversation. Although long-term relationships were tested and challenged, the end results for students were good.

School leaders may be reluctant to venture into the wilderness of starting that difficult conversation.  It will take conviction, courage, and commitment. Nevertheless, we need to have these discussions as a community for us to ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve and succeed.

So, I suggest that we support our education leaders and start a “courageous conversation” right here on East Side Eddie Report.com. I want to hear about your experiences with racial and cultural bias as a student, parent, teacher, school administrator and how it impacted your decision to continue (or not continue) a higher education? If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, but want to share your story, please feel free to e-mail me confidentially at eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net.

Let’s be bold and start talking!


Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #14)

Written on the back of the photo is, "Sandy 5th Grade" (Peralta Family Photo)
Written on the back of this photo is, “Sandy 5th Grade”
(Peralta Family Photo)

It was during those long phone calls between our first and second date that I got to know Sandra very well.  She was born Sandra Faustina Peralta on September 30, 1966, at Doctors Hospital just west of downtown San Jose, the second of four daughters born to Fausto and Connie Peralta, a construction worker and cannery worker.  She was a cute baby with big brown eyes, chubby cheeks, and puffy arms and legs that looked like they were tapered at the joints with rubber bands like a cute Michelin Man from the tire company’s commercials.

As she grew up, Sandra was obedient, studious, and cheerful.  In elementary school, she helped in the school library, cafeteria, and could always be found at recess time helping a teacher with some odd job in the classroom. Beneath the exterior of the model student and obedient daughter was a girl who had tremendous strength of character and unflinching determination.  According to her mom, even as a toddler, “Sandra knew what she wanted to do and was confident she could do it.”

The family next door had a daughter the same age that constantly competed with Sandra in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.  Only once did Sandra let the pressure of that competition get the best of her when in a fit of anger she called the other little girl a bitch, and abruptly went home to confess to her mom, express remorse, and return to apologize.  This incident accurately describes Sandra’s dual qualities of toughness and compassion.

Sandra went on to excel in school earning good grades, playing clarinet in the award winning high school marching band, participating in after school activities, and eventually getting elected student body president her senior year at Silver Creek High School in east San Jose.  After two years of community college she enrolled at San Jose State University to begin a journey that would lead to her career as an educational administrator.

Sandra’s success can be attributed to her spirit, personality, and the unconditional support from her family.  Her parents, Fausto and Connie Peralta, are the personification of the American Dream.  Born in the village of Cumpas, Sonora, Mexico in 1938, Fausto was raised by aunts and uncles because his father Mariano died as a young man; and his mother Concepción left him, and his sister and brothers in the care of relatives to go to the United States in search of work and a chance to send for her children so they could have a better life than the one they had in Mexico.

He came to the United States at the age of sixteen and settled with his mother in the small California farming town of Mendota; his brothers followed later.  In Mendota, Fausto quickly established himself as a hard working young man who provided much value to the farmers who employed him in the cotton fields of central California.  When not doing the back-breaking work required in the hot and dusty fields, he could be seen around town neatly dressed in clean and pressed clothes, polished shoes, and hair combed just right.

Sandra’s mom, Connie Rosales, was born in 1941 just a few miles up the road from Mendota on the Hotchkiss Ranch just outside of Firebaugh, California, the ninth child of Jesus and Encarnación Rosales.  Like Fausto, she was raised by a single mother as her father passed away when she was just three years old.  Connie, a strong-willed, hard-working, and compassionate woman, grew up dreaming of one day living in a nice house and raising a successful family just like the Americanas who lived in town.

Connie and Fausto met in 1958 when Connie’s presumably match-making aunt invited Fausto to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of Connie’s sister.  Two years later they were married, then moved to San Jose looking for work where Fausto made his way as a cement mason and Connie supplemented their income working in the canneries of Santa Clara Valley, and where they built a family with their four daughters: Valerie, Sandra, Kimberley, and Shelley.  They worked hard and did whatever it took to ensure that their daughters had a chance to succeed.

Raising four daughters was a challenge for Fausto and Connie as each woman has her own distinct personality.  Collectively, the Peralta girls made an impression at Silver Creek High School and proudly call San Jose State University their alma mater.  A large photo of the sisters standing together resplendent in college cap and gown under the shadow of the university’s ivy-covered Tower Hall hangs in the entryway of the Peralta house.

College Can Change Your Life

Tower Hall, San Jose State University (SJSU file photo)
Tower Hall, San Jose State University (SJSU file photo)

“College isn’t for everybody.” The first time I heard this was from my high school counselor who discouraged me from applying to San Jose State University. I heard it over and over again from teachers and other school leaders when, as president of the school board, I proposed making high school graduation requirements the same as college eligibility requirements.

That statement has some truth to it, but you have to make that determination on your own. Teachers, counselors, the school system, parents, family, friends, and society don’t have any business telling you if college is the right path for you. Unless your heart is set on a career that requires no education, I highly recommend that you give college a try.

Let’s get a couple of things straight first. College isn’t easy. It’s an exercise in determination, discipline, and hard work. It doesn’t guarantee a job and a high-paying career after graduation. That’s up to you.  What college does is open your mind and opens the door to limitless opportunities. During the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to speak to high school and college students about the value of my college education in a talk I call, “How College Changed My Life.”

I failed at my first try at college, so I went out into the world and tried to make a living without an education. I drove a forklift at a sheet metal company and worked in construction to quickly learn that I was miserable. I tried selling shoes, toys, and sporting goods to find out that the fastest path to management was a college degree. I coached middle and high school kids, but that didn’t provide a living.

So, in my mid-20s, I went back to college. This time I put my heart and soul into it. My goal was to be a high school history teacher and basketball coach. A funny thing happened on the way to that goal: I never got there. Studying history at San Jose State University blew my mind wide open. I became fascinated about how business, politics, education, and ideas changed the course of history. This fascination led to a career that has been a wild, but fulfilling, ride.

When I walked into Spartan Stadium on graduation day, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do anymore. I loved kids and coaching basketball, but the college experience taught me that there was so much more out there than I could even imagine. I took a position as legislative assistant to a city councilwoman, not knowing what that meant. The research, writing, and public-speaking skills I learned in college were a perfect fit for the job.

My fondest memory of that first job as a college graduate was when the councilwoman led the effort to rename the central city park in honor of Latino icon César Chávez. I suggested that the organizing committee, which included Chávez family members, honor César by engraving his name on the face of the park’s marble stage. They agreed. I got goose bumps the day that city leaders and the Chávez family unveiled the engraving. I still get goose bumps every time I see it.

Since that experience, I’ve worked in business, served on the school board, and returned to local government. Instead of teaching history, I’ve been a witness to history. I was in Denver’s Mile High Stadium as a corporate executive when President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in2008. As a school board member, I saw parents and students save high school sports and win the fight for graduation requirements to mirror college eligibility standards.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “No one can ever take away your education.” A few years ago, I had a massive heart attack that nearly took my life. With a damaged heart, my ability to work 18 hours a day, play basketball, and ride roller coasters has been taken away. But, I can still read, write, research, speak, and share stories with anyone who’s willing to listen. I couldn’t do any of that without my San Jose State University education.

I understand that college might not be for everyone. Our world depends on people who work in the trades, drive goods to market, and provide services. These are honorable professions that deserve our appreciation. My parents worked hard without a college education, raised a family, and encouraged their children to reach for the stars. Even though they didn’t have a university degree, they knew we needed one to achieve our dreams.

Cultural and socio-economic conditions seven decades ago made it difficult for my parents to get a higher education. We live in a different age today. There are so many more opportunities than a generation ago, especially for Latinos. Society may be telling you that you’re destined to be a truck driver, receptionist, construction worker, or landscaper. That may be true. That may be your destiny.  But you ought to give college a try first. You never know what could happen.


Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #12)

The original Mark's Hot Dogs stand on Alum Rock Avenue in east San Jose (photo by www.roadfood.com)
The original Mark’s Hot Dogs stand on Alum Rock Avenue in east San Jose
(photo by http://www.roadfood.com)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 2nd excerpt from Chapter 2: “Sandra Peralta.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”


A couple of months after the garage encounter, I was hitting the town with a couple of old high school friends barhopping when I suggested we stop at the wedding of my friend Will Medina’s sister.  Will and I knew each other from the Kinney Shoe store where he worked in the stock room.  Like me, he grew up in east San Jose, but in a different neighborhood.  He was, and still is, always well-dressed with neatly pressed clothes and perfectly combed hair, and he’s honest and hardworking.  If dictionaries had the phrase “a good man” in their pages, there is no doubt in my mind that Will Medina’s photo would sit right next to the definition.

Will and I got to know each other better after I left my job at Kinney Shoes, and became fast friends playing recreational league basketball and softball together, and carousing around town.  On that summer night in 1985, his girlfriend and future wife, Juanita Navarro, was with him at his sister’s wedding.  Juanita is an intelligent, caring, and faithful woman who has shared her life with Will and their two children.  She also happened to be, and still is, Sandra’s best friend.

When I walked into the reception hall wearing a dark suit and tie, looking for Will and acting like I owned the place, I instantly saw Sandra sitting with Juanita and her family.  She was radiant wearing a navy blue pencil skirt and starched white blouse, and she smiled demurely when our eyes made contact.  Up to this point, Sandra and I agree on how the events unfolded, it’s the next few minutes where we have vastly different perspectives.

I remember walking to Sandra and respectfully asking her to dance; she insists that I waved from across the room and pointed to the dance floor as to say, “Meet me there.”  We are the only witnesses to the disputed incident so I’m sure the whole episode will go with us to our respective graves.  Nevertheless, we danced.   As I escorted her back to her chair, I reminded her that I was the guy who ran from Welch Park across the street to her house mistaking her for someone else.

When told her how I wanted to ask her for her telephone number, but I couldn’t say anything because her beauty left me speechless, she looked at me skeptically, with a slight roll of her eyes, but asked me to sit down anyway.   We danced a few more times and spent the evening chatting.  When my friends began pestering me to leave the wedding for another party, Sandra gave me her telephone number and I vanished into the night.

A week later, we were out on our first date.  I was nervous and excited as I was getting ready for the evening.  I had planned to take her to the movies and then for a quick bite at Mark’s Hot Dogs, the best place on the east side to go for a food nightcap.  When I arrived at her house, I walked into the living room so Sandra could introduce me to her parents.  Sandra looked so beautiful in pink and white striped pants and a pink blouse that I couldn’t stop looking at her; consequently I don’t remember any interaction with her parents or anyone else that may have been in the living room.

As we drove to the Century Theaters on the west side of town to see the hit movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Sandra and I talked and laughed, and I quickly became enchanted by this smart, funny, and attractive woman.  Other than being uncomfortable with a couple of racy scenes in the movie, our first date was going well as we arrived at Mark’s Hot Dogs.  Mark’s is an art deco hot-dog stand built in 1936 in the shape of an orange that remains an east side institution and official city landmark to this day.

When I was a kid, my parents would usually stop at Mark’s for a midnight snack after a night out and bring a few dogs home for us, boiled to crunchy perfection in a steamed bun and garnished with mustard, relish, onions, and tomatoes.  My little sister Sisi and I would tear open the plain brown paper bag that held the gastronomic wonders and crunch away with delight.  Sandra had never been to Mark’s, so I was feeling pretty good about introducing her to something new.

As we talked and laughed some more, she suddenly became quiet, then confided in me that she had dated a friend of mine in the past.  She had seen us talking and joking with each other at the wedding.  I admired her honesty, but I was in no mood to start a new relationship fraught with potential challenges.  I quickly finished my dog, drove Sandra home, and told her that I would probably not call her again.  She looked me in the eye and said a matter-of-factly, “Don’t call me then,” and casually walked into her house.  I called her the next day.


Next Wednesday: The chase is on!

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 – “Sandra Peralta” (excerpt #11)

Sandra sitting in her 1984 Firebird across the street from Welch Park (Peralta Family Photo)
Sandra sitting in her 1984 Firebird across the street from Welch Park
(Peralta Family Photo)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. This is the 1st excerpt from Chapter 2: “Sandra Peralta.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”


Chapter 2

Sandra Peralta

When I started working at Kinney’s again, a friend named Sammy Ybarra, who I met through a high school friend years before, asked me be his assistant coach for the eighth grade boys basketball team at his elementary school alma mater, a Catholic school in his neighborhood.  He and I became good friends, and I later served as a chaperone at his wedding.  I excitedly accepted his invitation to help coach the team.

We had a blast, and the next year, the school asked me to be the head coach for the boys’ sixth grade basketball team.  I poured all of my energy into coaching that team, and we won all of our games except the championship game at the end of the season.  The kids, parents, and school community loved me, and working with the boys gave me a glimmer of hope that I could succeed at something.

Although the carousing, drinking, and chasing women continued, I began to think that there was a way out of the mess I had created for myself, and getting back into college was the key.  Later that spring, school officials asked me to coach the eighth grade baseball team, and I took on that job with the same gusto.  During the day and on weekends, I was peddling shoes; and in the afternoon during the week I was coaching a Catholic school baseball team at Welch Park in east San Jose.

At night, I was hitting the town causing mischief and feeling a little less inadequate, but not by much. One day, while hitting ground balls at practice, I noticed a shiny car slowly rolling down Santiago Avenue, the roadway that ran between Welch Park and the row of houses across the street.  The driver of that silver 1984 Firebird turning left onto the driveway at the house right across the street from home plate would forever change my life.

Right across the street from home plate on the baseball diamond at Welch Park lived a beautiful young woman.  Every day, I would stop practice to the merriment of the thirteen and fourteen year old boys as she drove up to her house.  I would watch her gather her belongings from the car, sling her backpack over one shoulder, and sip a soda as she walked into the garage that led to the house.  Day in and day out every afternoon, like clockwork, she would turn onto the driveway in her silver Firebird and I would stop practice to watch her routine to the chuckles and giddiness of the team.

After a week or so, the mischievous boys dared me to walk across the street and ask her out on a date, so I took on their challenge the next day as she drove up in a brown Mazda similar to one owned by another young woman I knew.  This was my chance, so I casually jogged across the street pretending that she was the other girl and shouted, “hi Clarabelle.”  As I approached her in the garage of the house, I finally had the chance to see her close up.  She took my breath away.

She had smooth fair skin, high cheekbones, long flowing brown hair combed in the 1980s style of the day, big brown doe eyes, and cute lips that curled just slightly at the top.  With confident reserve, she said, “I’m not Clarabelle, my name is Sandra.”  I apologized for mistaking her for someone else and nervously introduced myself.  I shuffled my feet without taking my eyes off of her eyes, mumbled several things I don’t remember, apologized again, and started jogging back to the park.  She left me speechless, and I didn’t have the courage to ask her out, even though that’s not what I told my players.

During the next several weeks, the kids on the team kept asking if I had gone out on a date with Sandra and I told them with authority that a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.  Of course, there were no kisses and nothing to tell.  Every afternoon when she slipped out of her car, I would wave my hand to say hello in an effort to catch her attention, but I don’t remember if she ever waved back.  When the baseball season ended I had no reason to go back to Welch Park, so I kicked myself for not getting Sandra’s number and  letting an opportunity to slip through my fingers.


Next Wednesday: Fate gives me another chance to meet Sandra.

The Soundtrack for One East Side Kid’s Life

The cover from Ramon Ayala's first album, "Ya No Llores" with Los Relampagos de Norte  (Fred. O. García  Collection)
The cover from Ramon Ayala’s first album in 1963, “Ya No Llores,” with Los Relampagos de Norte
(Fred O. García Collection)

Looking back, growing up Mexican American on the east side was pretty cool.  My family was more American than Mexican.  My parents were born in the United States as were my dad’s parents and grandparents.  We spoke English at home with a sprinkling of Spanglish to add flavor, just like the tablespoons of my mom’s homemade salsa we would sprinkle on every meal whether it was tacos or fried chicken.

Like language and food, music in our house crossed borders.  My dad’s collection included the standards (Sinatra, Martin, Nat King Cole), rock and roll 45’s, and a wide variety of Mexican music.  His component stereo system which sat on the “black dresser” in our little dining room was sacred.  He meticulously catalogued his collection: Mexican albums stood side by side in the cupboards of the dresser, 45’s sat on the speakers, and cassettes he recorded filled the top dresser drawer.

I loved it all, especially Mexican music.  I can still smell the cardboard of album covers that wafted out of the cupboards as soon as the door was opened.  Mariachi, tejano, cumbia, banda, a sampling of every type of Mexican music could be found in that cupboard.  My favorite genre was, and is, the norteño style from northern Mexico that features a twelve string guitar, bass, drums, and accordion.  Ramon Ayala y Sus Bravos del Norte, the “King of the Accordion,” is the soundtrack for this east side boy’s life.

Ramon Ayala, a Grammy Award winning artist, was 18 years old when he formed Los Relampagos del Norte in 1963.  He formed the legendary Bravos de Norte eight years later.  His songs are about romantic love, heartbreak, and the struggles of everyday life.  The lyrics strike a chord across generational lines and international borders.  He’s hugely popular with third and fourth generation Mexican Americans, and it’s fascinating to see the adoration he attracts from non-Spanish speakers.

I think this popularity comes from a half-century of being ever-present in many Mexican American households.  In my family, Ramon’s music was standard fare at backyard barbecues, weddings, and family celebrations.  Hanging out with my friends as a teenager, a few Ramon Ayala tunes would always find their way onto a song list of mostly popular disco and funk music.

When Sandra and I were married, we selected Ramon’s iconic Rinconcito en el Cielo (A Little Corner of Heaven) as our first dance rather than a standard American ballad.  The upbeat ranchera style song, played by a classic four-piece band, had us whirling around the dance floor.  On my 47th birthday, just months out of the hospital after my health crisis of 2010, Sandra and my family surprised me with a norteño band playing in our backyard.  We capped the night gingerly dancing to Rinconcito.

This weekend, I crossed off an item from my bucket-list by going on a pilgrimage to Reno with about 25 friends and family to see “The King of the Accordion” in concert.  As people were filing into the grand ballroom of the Silver Legacy Hotel, it seemed like I knew everyone that walked by.  Even though I didn’t know them, the faces in the crowd brought back childhood memories as generations of families came together for the show.

When Ramon Ayala casually walked onto the stage, the sold-out crowd erupted in a roaring cheer that didn’t stop until the concert was over.  From the first note of the first song, the audience danced in the aisles and swayed arm-in-arm as they sang every word of every song releasing passionate gritos during the musical interludes. Before long, I was no longer in a Reno ballroom; I was transported into a backyard, a wedding, and a family party.  The highlight of the night was jumping into the aisles to dance with Sandra as Ramon Ayala himself played Rinconcito en el Cielo.

On the 5-hour drive home, I thought about growing up as a Mexican American on the east side and my career as a high school basketball coach, corporate executive, political chief of staff, and school board member.  I’ve had some amazing experiences in my professional life that I never dreamed could be possible.  But when it comes right down to it, the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy had it right, “there’s no place like home.”

The Mexican American community, and the Latino community in general, is highly misunderstood in mainstream American life.  Our zest for life and our passion for culture are often mistaken for a lack of desire to achieve academically or professionally.  That’s not true.  We work hard to make a better life for our children.  By the same token, from the vibe of near nirvana at the concert, it seems to me that Latinos can teach a lesson or two about living a balanced life.

Mexican Americans place a high priority on family, relationships, love, heartbreak, and surviving life’s day-to-day challenges.  We also place a high priority on working hard to earn our keep.  It’s these seemingly contradictory notions that make us a special, yet misunderstood, people.  For a half century, Ramon Ayala, a Mexican-born musical artist, has brought the shared experiences of Mexican Americans to life.  On Saturday night, he took me on a wonderful two-hour journey back home.

Educating Latino Students is a Team Effort

(Stock Photo - www.csusb.edu)
(Stock Photo – http://www.csusb.edu)

Since my tenure on the school board, I’ve been an advocate of investing in raising expectations for Latino students.  With my ongoing blog discussion about this issue, I’ve heard from many readers, especially teachers.  One educator wrote, “It all starts with the priorities in the home.”  Another commented that, “Latino parents need to know that their involvement is critical and necessary.”

A parent responded to the teacher comments by asking, “Can you educate parents on district policies for enrolling our kids and what to do?” That’s an important question.  Another teacher agreed with that parent and described how she and her colleagues invest time in families because “parents want to help their kids but they don’t have the tools to do it.”  So who’s right?

They’re all correct.  Every study about student success identifies strong parent support as an essential factor.  This component makes up one of the four legs of the stool that holds up high achievement in school.  The other three legs are high academic standards, sufficient resources, and high student expectations.  California schools are addressing standards and resources, but haven’t invested in engaging Latino parents or raising student expectations.  Why is this?

Raising academic standards and allocating sufficient resources are concepts that are easy to understand.  Test score goals and a college-prep curriculum are measurable, so policymakers just need to adjust the benchmarks to raise those standards, which is starting to happen around the state.  Governor Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula provides school districts with funding based on the demographic profile of their students, so financially underprivileged students will have more access to resources.

Increasing parent engagement and raising student expectations are harder to understand.  Immigrant Latino parents know little or nothing about our school system and American-born Latino parents are products of the very same system of low expectations that is hampering their kids.  Our school systems can’t expect parents to set academic priorities for their children if they don’t even have the means to understanding those priorities.

The misconception within education circles is that Latino parents don’t care about academic success and don’t make school a priority at home.  When I served on the school board in east San Jose, a predominately Latino community, I found the opposite to be true.  Latino parents were constantly asking me for advice about how to access district administration to share their concerns and seek counsel for their children.

Many school districts have active Latino parent groups that advocate for their students with few resources allocated by the district.  With the new funding formula, school leaders now have an opportunity to invest in parent groups that want to be more engaged with their students’ education.  For those who say ALL parent organizations, not just Latino parents, should have access to more district resources, my answer is “absolutely yes.”

Raising expectations for Latino students is a little trickier.  This is an issue I’ve discussed in past posts.  Proponents of educational equity and culturally relevant teacher development have argued with solid evidence that school systems have been historically biased along racial lines, thus creating an environment of low expectations for students of color.  In fact, educational equity experts call this the “missing link” in academic achievement.  I call it the fourth leg on the stool.

Despite recommendations from the state superintendent of schools and a Silicon Valley Education Foundation report, investing in a comprehensive program to address these real issues has been non-existent.  During the last decade of school budget-cutting, policymakers haven’t even considered addressing the fourth leg of the stool.  Local control funding provides a historic opportunity to change this.

Academic standards are rising and new school funding formulas are increasing resources.  With a growing Latino population, our education leaders can no longer accept the argument that the foundation of academic achievement can only be started “with priorities in the home,” especially when parents are asking for the tools to build that foundation.   Educators play a major role in the foundation of academic success and it must start with high student expectations.

By the same token, Latino parents can no longer relinquish the role of setting the foundation of academic success solely on the school system.  If school systems provide tools for parents and welcome them to engage in their children’s education, then Latino parents must meet their obligations and responsibilities to guide students toward a successful academic career.

Ensuring a robust economic future for California will hinge on the success of today’s Latino students, who will make up a majority of the state’s breadwinners within a generation.   We can no longer put all of the responsibility on the school system, nor can the school system merely rely on the home to achieve this.  California’s future rests on a team effort.  Schools need to provide all four legs of the stool to achieve success, and Latino parents and students need to answer the call.


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