There is a man by the name of Catalino Tapia of Redwood City, California who came to the United States, from Mexico, at age 20 with $6 in his pocket. Over the past 43 years he has worked as a baker and a machine operator. His education never went beyond 6th grade.
However, through hard work he eventually built a successful gardening business. He married and raised two children. One son graduated from Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley and is now an attorney in Los Angeles.
This story is not about this young immigrant’s rise to success, although it easily could have been. It is about a man who sees the inimitable value of education and has made it his philanthropic focus.
Mr. Tapia, with his son’s legal help, founded The Bay Area Gardener’s Foundation. It’s purpose: to give college scholarships to low-income students from the Bay area. He is a man of modest means, and from what I gleaned from an interview I recently listened to, of modest personality, as well. He believes “it is his duty to pass along the prosperity he has earned, to draw community members together for a shared goal and to be accountable for the well-being of the next generation.” Hmmm.
His Board consists of a dozen other immigrant gardeners and other community members who see the value in helping struggling students take the edge off some of their financial responsibilities by offering funds for books, transportation and other incidental expenses — costs that may not amount to a lot for some, but for others it is the difference of working an extra job to raise these funds.
Any student who has at least 2.5 GPA is eligible, even if he/she is an undocumented alien. Everyone on the Board agrees that, “”no matter what, they’re going to have their education. So even though they don’t have their papers and even though they might not be able to get a job with their Social Security number, no one will be able to take away their education.”
The main group that the Foundation has reached so far has been Latino High School students. Only 13 percent of U.S.-born Latino adults in California have a bachelor’s degree, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. For immigrant Latinos, it is 5 percent. This is a startling figure. The US Congress has failed to pass the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), on numerous occasions. This Act, if passed, would allow undocumented students who grew up in the US to qualify for a permanent Green card. What better incentive to encourage students to continue their studies?
Education is the vehicle by which millions of individuals can better their lives. In one little corner of our country, one man has made this his mission and I applaud him for his sincerity and commitment to his cause.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we might all take a second glance at how we can reach out to other communities by volunteering our time or resources. One of the Bay Area Gardener Foundation donors said it perfectly:
“It’s extraordinary to see a body of people who are struggling to make it in America also struggling for other people’s children. … Is that not grasping the American dream?” Op-Ed News, Leslie