Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt #24)

Hanging out with Marisa and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (personal photo)
Hanging out with Marisa and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
(personal photo)

A few weeks after the shortness of breath episode in Long Beach, while sitting in a plane that was descending into San Antonio International Airport, I again struggled to catch my breath.  I felt fine the rest of the trip, but made an appointment with my doctor when I returned home.  The doctor checked my vital signs, administered an electrocardiogram (EKG) test, and a cardiac stress test, which consists of the patient walking on a treadmill to determine if blood is flowing correctly through the heart during physical exertion.

I passed all of the exams without difficulty, relieved that I wasn’t suffering from the same fate as my parents and my sister.  The doctor explained that I might have issues related to anxiety as the symptoms are similar, but far less intense, to those of a heart attack.  I was ultimately diagnosed with a form of anxiety that causes a rapid heartbeat, sweating, chest pain, nausea, and numbness.   The disorder can be hereditary or caused by environmental factors such as stressful life events and life transitions.

For nearly a year, I had been masking the grief of my mom’s loss by working incessantly and grappling with some of my siblings on settling the estate. Doctors were sure that my episodes were not the result of genetics. They were caused by the life-changing events related to my mom. The doctors assured me that I could manage my condition by participating in a few group and individual sessions with a therapist, and taking small doses of anxiety medication.

I took stock of my life, and like everything else I did, I put all my being into the treatment to quickly resolve the issues. Despite the scare, I returned to my hectic schedule. Armed with the tools to manage the void caused by my mom’s passing, I focused my energy to finally disposing of the failure demons and achieving professional success once and for all. Determined to move up in the company, I worked harder at the office, continued representing Comcast at national Latino events, and dedicated precious extra time to making an impression on corporate honchos at the Executive Leadership Forum.

In 2005, my leadership forum teammates selected me to present our group project to the chairman of the board and the company’s top executives.  My presentation was a hit. Before long, opportunities to demonstrate my talents and commitment to the company came quickly and regularly.  I soon had the chance to make a big contribution on a national conference call with corporate bigwigs. I offered to help Comcast secure a franchise in Houston, Texas, by introducing top company executives to the vice mayor of the fourth largest city in the country.

Houston’s vice mayor was an emerging national Latina leader who I met during my travels on behalf of the company.  I scheduled a lunch meeting and traveled to Houston to make the introduction personally. After months of negotiations, Comcast won the contract with the vice mayor’s support.  That summer, I was chosen to lead a meeting in Washington, D.C. with the chairman of the company and a high-ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee with whom I had a solid working relationship.

The veteran California congresswoman’s wood-paneled office had a high ceiling, luxurious drapes, and photos of her with our nation’s leaders. California and American flags framed her large oak desk.  The office was bigger than the first apartment Sandra and I lived in when we got married.  During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think about how far I had come from the simple days at 48 Viewmont Avenue, the college failure, the dark years of aimlessly wandering through life, and the triumphant return to and graduation from San Jose State University.

A few months later, I stood at the podium of the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas, to deliver brief comments on behalf of Comcast to a thousand Latino elected officials from throughout the country at the annual NALEO conference. It was the same gathering that, as a green and impressionable political staffer, inspired me to forge a career in politics nearly a decade earlier.  By the fall of 2006, I had been named vice president of local government affairs for Comcast in California.

As vice president, I developed and managed the company’s local government relations initiatives and continued with my travels. Business trips included regular drives throughout California to visit and meet with the eight government affairs directors who reported to me. I also played a role as a company representative at political events across the state. On one such occasion, Marisa went with me to a fundraising event at the Los Altos Hills estate of a Silicon Valley executive where former President Bill Clinton was the featured speaker.

I beamed with pride when Marisa, just 12 years old, recognized and introduced herself to Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Marisa shook President Clinton’s hand and we arranged a photo with Speaker Pelosi.  It’s impossible to accurately portray how it felt that day to provide my daughter with the opportunity to meet a U.S. President and House Speaker. The failure demons that haunted me for so long were gradually fading away.

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Summer in the Waiting Room – Chapter 3: Redemption (excerpt#19)

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Chapter 3

Redemption

 

Before completing college and before Sandra and I decided to have a family, I threw the original plan of earning a teaching credential to the wayside, which would have taken another three semesters.  With my dream of becoming a teacher subservient to my need to begin a career, I felt that I had lost too much time during the years I had stumbled through life trying to soothe the pain of my failures. Not sure what a twenty-nine year old college graduate with a history degree could do other than teach high school history, I wondered what direction to pursue and where the opportunities may be.

Then fate stepped in.  During the spring before graduation, Sandra and I were visiting her parents on a Saturday afternoon when a friend from college, Damian Trujillo, called to invite me to the 25th anniversary celebration for a local job training program.  Damian was determined, hard-working, and ambitious; he worked part-time at KSJS, the San Jose State radio station, and dreamed of becoming a television reporter.

I had taken some Mexican American Studies classes with Damian and we became friends when we worked together on the planning committee of a national academic conference the Mexican American Studies Department hosted at San Jose State.  It was the first time I was part of a team that developed and produced a large conference that attracted people from throughout the country.  Today, Damian is recognized as one of the most respected and well-known newsman in the valley.

The featured speaker at the job training center anniversary event would be Cesar Chavez, the great labor leader and civil rights icon who found the United Farm Workers of America. Sandra encouraged me to go because her advisor in high school, George Shirakawa, Sr., was a city councilman who probably would be at the event and might be willing to advise me about getting a job at the city if I told him that I was married her.

With nothing to wear, my old suits didn’t fit anymore and we didn’t have money or time to get a new one, I called Rudy and borrowed his only suit.  Years later, at an event I had invited him to attend where he wore a perfectly tailored blue business suit, he would recount that I taught him that every man must always have at least one suit, just in case one was needed.  Looking very much the politician in Rudy’s black suit with white shirt and red tie, I headed to downtown San Jose with Damian to attend the first political event of my life.

The celebration, held in San Jose’s cavernous convention center’s main hall, was attended by the valley’s political glitterati.  Feeling absolutely natural in that environment, I moved about the hall effortlessly introducing myself to everyone who looked familiar from television news and newspaper stories: the valley’s congressional representative, state legislators, a future San Jose mayor, and a city councilwoman who was the grand dame of Latino politics in Silicon Valley.

I even approached Cesar Chavez himself and extended my hand in introduction.  During the few seconds I spent shaking Chavez’s hand and exchanging cordial salutations, I saw the powerful yet humble determination in his eyes that made him a national civil rights hero.  Even though it was clear to see that these politicians would forget our interaction the second I walked away, I was instantly mesmerized by politics that night.

Toward the end of the evening, I finally saw the prize, the reason I decided to accept Damian’s last-minute invitation, Councilman George Shirakawa, Sr.  He was walking quickly through the crowd with a small entourage that included his son George, a local school board trustee. Mr. Shirakawa was an admired teacher and counselor before entering politics, and George, Jr. was a popular high school athlete before his election to the school board.  Together there were revered in their part of town in south central San Jose.

I stepped in Mr. Shirakawa’s path, jutted out my hand, and introduced myself.  He was a husky, gregarious man with a beaming smile, a booming voice, and a personality that filled the spacious hall.  He was a wearing a black tuxedo with a colorful matching vest and bow tie.  With the same distant look in his eyes as the other politicians I met, he shook my hand, said hello, and began to continue his march through the hall.

When I told him that I was married to Sandra Peralta, he stopped in his tracks, smiled even bigger, and in that commanding voice told me that if I was married to “Sandy Peralta,” I must be a good man.  He then handed me his business card, directed me to call his office on Monday, and disappeared into the crowd.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 2 (excerpt #18)

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Every semester, the results of that term’s academic performance arrived in the mail on light blue computer paper, and term after term, an “A” would be recorded next each course I completed.  I was on a mission. I stayed up later, studied more, and worked harder in class as the semesters went by.  During the spring before my thirtieth birthday, I was still shy of graduation so I put myself into overdrive to get to the finish line.  That semester I took seven classes, plus a required physical education class for a total of twenty-two units, an overloaded schedule that had to be approved by an advisor.

It was a hectic term, and I earned a straight “A” report card again, then it was done.  It was a bittersweet moment as I was relieved to have achieved my goal; but I still felt inferior and a sense of guilt for the earlier college failure, so I didn’t want to participate in commencement ceremonies.  Fortunately, Sandra made me don the cap and gown of a San Jose State graduate.

At the age of twenty-nine, just slightly ahead of schedule, I walked onto the football field at Spartan Stadium with 5,000 other graduates while our 30,000 friends and family members watched from the stadium seats.  I was proud to have earned my degree, especially because my parents, who both suffered heart attacks in their mid-fifties, were healthy enough to celebrate with me.

My bond with Sandra was stronger than ever, and the true meaning of giving unconditional love entered my consciousness for the first time.  As I started working on a career and Sandra got settled in hers, we decided to have a family.  I’ve always loved babies and kids so I couldn’t wait to have some of my own.  Of course, with Sandra at the helm, we planned our family methodically; we would have two children, three to four years apart, regardless of the gender so we could provide them with enough love and resources to be successful.

We would read to them while Sandra was pregnant and continue the practice until they became readers on their own, we would talk with them to build up confidence, and we would support their efforts as they grew.  I wanted babies with chubby cheeks and beautiful eyes like their mother, and of course, I hoped that they would love to read history and plays sports like me.  On March 20, 1994, our oldest daughter Marisa was born, and Erica came three and a half years later on October 19, 1997.

Marisa is the archetype of the oldest sibling; she is smart, responsible, focused, and cautious.  From the time she was a baby, Marisa was all smiles, cheerful, and attracted attention everywhere we went.  Skipping the crawling phase, she scooted about on her bottom to get from place to place in the house, and suddenly one day she stood up and began walking.  Marisa was and still is articulate.  As a baby she could use simple words before she walked and, when she was a little older, she could memorize the storybooks we read and appear to be reading them herself.

I have to dig deeply into my memory to remember a time when Marisa didn’t talk.  Mr. Peralta remarked more than once that, “this girl is going to be a lawyer.”  Like her mother, she has fair skin, full cheeks, pretty brown eyes, and a smile that is contagious.  She is thoughtful, articulate, a voracious reader with a diverse taste for music, and always ready to participate in a good debate.  At about the age of ten, she began to have challenges with anxiety, of which she is constantly learning to manage.  A straight “A” student throughout her life, she studies communications at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Erica has an endearing personality. She’s witty, daring, and playful.  At times she could be unfocused due to her artistically creative nature.  She was a chubby baby with expressive eyes and a mischievous grin who began to crawl quickly and walk shortly thereafter.  It took her awhile to start talking. I even raised concerns that she might be slightly deaf as it runs in my family.  But that wasn’t the case.  Although she wasn’t talkative as a toddler, you could see her taking everything in and studying the sights and sounds around her.  This keen sense of observation gives her a comedic timing that easily attracts people.

While seemingly shy and reserved upon first meeting her, Erica is outgoing and social once she is comfortable with those around her.  It’s not unusual to see her holding the attention of little kids, her peers, or adults with her musings that end in howls of laughter.  Although frustrating to Sandra and me, she does just enough to get by in the classroom. Nonetheless, she plans to study art and design in college.  While she internalizes her feeling during times of crisis and disappointment, she maintained a faith that was unshakeable during the most challenging time of her life when I was in the intensive care unit clinging onto life

Together, the four of us are a close-knit unit.  I’m a prolific practitioner of nicknames and Sandra and the girls have many, and two have stuck for the girls: Marisa is “Tita” because Erica couldn’t say her name as a baby, and Erica is “X,” a warped progression of “Ericas,” one of my earliest nicknames for her.  When Sandra and I aren’t toiling away at an evening meeting, we have dinner with each other every night so the girls could talk about their day at school, complete with the schoolgirl gossip that came as they grew older.

Sandra and I share stories about our workday, constantly focusing on the positive outcomes of the challenges we face daily so the girls could see that work didn’t have to be drudgery if they followed their passions.  Before Marisa went off to college, the girls fought constantly, only to make up in an instant laughing and joking about inside jokes.  Now when Marisa returns for breaks from school, the two of them are the best of friends.

Sandra has always been the one to provide discipline and stability in their lives while I’ve been head cheerleader and dreamer in chief.  Since they were born, the girls have had me tightly wrapped around their little fingers so Sandra has said that she has to be the “tough” one while I’m the “pushover.”  Although overly simplistic, and in dispute like the argument about how I asked her to dance so many years ago, this dynamic has caused the most tension in our house.

With their mom, the girls love to shop, cuddle up on a lazy Sunday afternoon watching TV, and tease me about my idiosyncrasies.  With me, Marisa likes to talk about music, books, and politics. Erica and I talk about sports and history, and make each other crack up with our silly humor.  The four of us enjoy being with each other, whether going to the movies or out to dinner, or just staying home, hanging out and talking nonsense.  For too many years, our good times together must have seemed like special occasions to my family, because for most of their lives, Sandra, Marisa, and Erica have endured watching me fight demons through my obsessive and passionate pursuit of my ambitions.

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Blogger’s note: This is the 18th 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.  To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

Winning the Fight for Higher Standards on the East Side

(Stock Photo)
(Stock Photo)

Sitting in the back of the multi-purpose room at Mt. Pleasant High School in east San Jose on Friday, I reflected on the untapped potential of this dynamic community. The occasion was the annual MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science & Achievement) College Poster Contest.  MESA is a non-profit organization that helps prepare educationally underrepresented students to graduate from college with an engineering, science, business or mathematics degree.

The college poster contest, one of many MESA programs, challenges students to research a college of their choice, make a poster, and present their findings to a panel of judges. For the past two years, I’ve had the honor to serve as a judge in the high school division. To my delight, the entire afternoon was an east side affair. MESA’s executive director at San Jose State University is a James Lick High School alum like me, the contest coordinator is an Evergreen High School grad, and the students represented east side schools.

I was impressed by the meticulous research, creativity and oral presentation skills demonstrated by the students. Two junior girls from Silver Creek High School, who chose to highlight UCLA, made my day. When I asked if they took the A-G class schedule needed to apply to UCLA, one of the girls said, “everyone takes A-G classes,” while the other smiled and nodded in agreement. A rush of emotion washed over me as I remembered the 2010 “A-G” fight at the East Side Union High School District.

In California, the A-G curriculum is the checklist of classes students need to take to be eligible to apply for college in the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Most school districts don’t require an A-G curriculum for all students. According to a 2009 California Post Secondary Education Commission report, “the college-going rate for students in California to UC schools was 7.2% and the rate to CSU schools was 10.5%.”

In 2008, just six of the state’s over 400 school districts that issued high school diplomas required an A-G curriculum. The East Side was like the vast majority of school districts where 90% of the graduates weren’t even eligible to apply to a UC or CSU. During my term serving on the school board at the East Side from 2006-2010, a group of students from the district’s chapter of Californians for Justice (CFJ) were campaigning the school board to make A-G the required curriculum for all students.

When I was elected board president in 2009, I joined the CFJ students, their families, and community supporters to fight for A-G at East Side schools by announcing at the annual State of the District Address that I would ask the board to approve an A-G curriculum for all students by the end of the year. The standing room-only crowd in James Lick’s multi-purpose room that night expressed full support for what would be called the A-G Initiative.

I thought the proposal was a no-brainer that would easily pass the board by mid-summer. The day after the State of the District Address, I quickly learned that it would be anything but easy. I met with opponents who were concerned and angry that I made such a bold statement without consulting the broader education community. They warned that the rigorous curriculum would “set up students to fail” as “these students weren’t prepared to pass Algebra II.”

Together with students, parents, and community supporters, we moved forward nonetheless. The Silicon Valley Education Foundation joined the fight by providing critical resources to educate the public and my board colleagues on the values of A-G. Later that spring, I had a massive heart attack with complications that kept me in the hospital for over 100 days. As I fought for my life in the ICU, the community fought for A-G and higher standards on the east side.

The A-G vote was scheduled for the October board meeting and the initiative’s opponents had asked the board to delay the vote and convene a study session to better understand the impacts. Although I was home from the hospital, I was in no condition to participate in the board meeting, so my four board colleagues would determine the fate of A-G. The board ended up deadlocked so both proposals failed to get the required three votes for move forward. A-G was dead.

The next day, I confirmed with district officials that I was still board president and could vote by teleconference, so I asked the administration to once again place the issue on November’s board agenda. Student, parents, and community supporters rallied their troops to attend the November board meeting to show solidarity for the initiative. I planned to by on telephone standby until the issue came to a vote.

By the night of meeting, I was strong enough to attend and persuaded Sandra to let me participate in the A-G vote. An overflow crowd came to the board chambers on November 18, 2010, to enthusiastically urge the board to vote for the A-G Initiative. After brief comments by each board member, we unanimously voted to require the A-G checklist to be the default curriculum for all students beginning with the Class of 2015.

After casting my last vote as a school board member, I turned toward the door behind the dais and walked out of the board chambers for the last time as students and families celebrated their hard-fought victory. That was, and always will be, my proudest moment as an eastsider . We showed everyone that our community valued high standards that night. Last Friday, when the young woman from the Silver Creek High Class of 2015 matter-of-factly told me that, “everyone takes A-G classes,” I smiled, assured that 2010 was worth the fight.

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.

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.

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

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.

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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.