By Martha Sarabia
For high school student Laura Manzano, college had started to become a vanishing dream. Her mom had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy.
Consequently, Manzano’s well-being was not the best for her senior year in high school.
Fortunately, the North County Latinas Association (NCLA) awarded her a scholarship.
“One night before I was arguing about going to college and I got my hopes back up,” said Manzano about her reaction after knowing she was a scholarship recipient.
Now, Manzano, who is the oldest of three siblings, will be able to go forward with her plans of studying liberal arts and becoming an elementary teacher.
Manzano together with other 16 Latina students received their scholarship at the NCLA 14th Annual Adelante Mujer Conference. Every year, the local group formed by Latina volunteers gives scholarships to deserving middle and high school Latina students in the area with a desire and potential to go to college.
“NCLA believes that every young Latina should make a college education a goal. North County San Diego has one of the highest high school drop-out rates and we are doing our part to reduce this negative cycle,” said NCLA President Minerva Gonzalez.
This year’s conference titled “Latinas Communicating, Educating, Moving Forward & Taking Action” took place Saturday at Cal State San Marcos. About 1,000 students, their moms, workshop presenters and organizers gathered to participate in the conference that has become an annual tradition to motivate young Latinas to obtain a higher education.
“I feel very excited and proud. I’m going through chemo. So I’m very happy that I’m able to be here with her,” said smiling Lorena Valdez, mother of Manzano, at the NCLA conference. Valdez added that attending the conference made her feel motivated and gave her strengths to motivate her daughter in such a difficult time for her family.
Organizers are aware of the effect the conference has on the young students.
CSUSM student Saida Muñoz and conference co-chair said, “It’s really important for the girls to know that they can go to college and make them understand it’s obtainable.”
Muñoz also recognized the need for more volunteers to help out during the conference due to its continuous growth.
“It’s really successful. We’ve seen how much it has impacted the girls. Many people have come back to help out,” she added.
One of them is Candelaria Angeles, a San Marcos resident who was a workshop presenter this year and came to the conference before as an attendee and later as a volunteer.
“I love the fact that the girls seemed to be very interested and they had a lot of questions,” said Angeles, a fourth grade teacher about the students in her workshop.
The young students and their moms attended a variety of workshops with topics ranging from education and self-esteem to career choices as presented by many Latina professionals who experienced first-hand the difficulties of obtaining a college education.
Laura Vaca, a middle school student from Rincon, said after attending a nursing workshop, “It shows us how to prepare for college.”
Moms also said to have had an inspirational day.
While looking at the crowd, Mariana Guijarro, a Carlsbad resident who came with her daughter to the conference, said, “It’s beautiful to see so many young Latinas.”
Adela Resendiz from Vista also accompanied her two daughters. “The conference is a good idea because it motivates the girls and their moms to go to school,” she said. Daughters Lilibeth and Jaimie seemed to agree. “It makes us be motivated about the future,” said Jaimie, a ninth grader. Lilibeth, a sixth grader, added, “It makes us plan for college and succeed… It helps you understand what your parents do for you.”
Michele Serros, the keynote speaker of the event, motivated the attendees to reach for their goals. Serros is a Los Angeles native and is writing her third book.
Serros talked about her past experiences such as changing the F’s to B’s in her report card before showing it to her mom and the times when she thought changing her name to Michael Hill would help her become a successful writer.
“I really struggled in high school. I never asked questions. I didn’t want to be the dumb Mexican girl asking questions,” she told the attendees.
Serros also made the audience laugh in many occasions. “I could see the headline ‘Chicana girl killed by chicharrones in Chino,’” she said.
She also told the attendees to do everything possible to take advantage of the conference and encouraged them to find a positive role model.
Ruth Manzano, NCLA founder member and presenter since the creation of the conference, said, “If we all can contribute something, we can make a change in the child and their family.”
For more information about the NCLA or to become involved in next year’s conference, visit www.sd-ncla.org or call (760) 752-5930.