Southwest High Counselor Maggie Padilla had a simple goal: books for the school’s Mexican-American Studies class. So when Denny’s restaurants offered a complete Library of Latino Literature for the school with the highest percentage of Denny’s scholarship applicants, Padilla jumped at the opportunity. Thanks to a multi-pronged outreach effort, more than 170 Southwest High students applied to the Denny’s 2003 Scholastic Stars Sweepstakesthe highest rate of participation from among 300 high schools in five states.
That was good enough to bring home the book collection and an unexpected visit from speaker Victor Villaseñor, celebrated author of Rain of Gold and The Thirteen Senses: a memoir. In addition, two studentssophomore Maria Teresa Alonso and junior Sandra E. Tavarezwere awarded $1,000 scholarships from Denny’s, in partnership with the Hispanic College Fund.
Villaseñor was born in Carlsbad in San Diego’s North County in 1940. In plain-spoken, no-nonsense terms, he told Southwest students and staff about his family’s struggles in war-torn Revolutionary Mex-ico, his travails in public schools in the pre-civil rights era and his transition to best-selling author.
“Words are not reality, they’re labels,” Villaseñor said, a reference to the hurtful racial and ethnic stereotypes he’d grown up with.
He urged students to maintain bilingual, even tri-lingual skills.
“This kind of recognition goes a long way toward reinforcing our message that a college education is possible for all students,” said Southwest High Principal Luis Maestre. “The competition encourages students to maintain good academic standing. And the collection of Latino literature is a powerful reminder to our students of the depth and quality of Latino authorsmany of whom come from backgrounds very similar to our students’.”
Scholarship winner Maria Teresa said she was appreciative. “It’s the first scholarship I’ve won in school,” she said. “I think it’s important for students to have these opportunities to win scholarships. One scholarship at a time, students can save up little by little to attend a university.”