Diana Valenzuela choked back tears as she recalled her parents working in the hot fields of California’s farmland.
The baking sun. The calloused hands. The seemingly endless days. How their clothes, drenched in sweat, clung to their bodies.
She too worked in the fields with her parents. Yet as challenging as the work proved, it served as a life-altering lesson for the then 14-year-old, motivating Valenzuela to excel academically in high school and set her sights on college and a future beyond the harsh fields that her parents endured.
Earlier this year, Valenzuela was named a 2014 Edison Scholar and awarded a $40,000 Edison International scholarship. She currently attends the University of Southern California as a freshman and civil engineering major.
“My parents work in the fields, and I come from those fields,” said Valenzuela, 18, as she fought back tears. “I knew that the only way to get ahead in life was by earning an education and they motivated me so much.”
Video Credit: Nicholas Roy
Valenzuela spoke before a crowd of 300 at SCE’s “Celebrating Business & Community Partnerships” Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration. The event also recognized Hispanic-owned business and community partnerships with a special focus on education.
Dr. Al Mijares, the event’s keynote speaker and county superintendent of schools for the Orange County Department of Education, spoke about the obstacles the Hispanic community faces when it comes to higher education. He noted the “low expectations tied to poverty” and emphasized the importance of increasing access to education.
“Let’s change that culture,” said Mijares, urging parents to have a sense of urgency and desire to educate their children, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
He identified four “seismic points” that contribute to the underachievement of Hispanics and hamper their success — low expectations, linguistic challenges, social custom and political will.
“Do we have the will to educate all of our children?” asked Mijares. “Honestly folks, this is urgent.”
The event also recognized the accomplishments of local Hispanic businesses and community leaders.
Energy Efficiency Participation Awards were given to S. Bravo Systems Inc. and PRL Glass Systems Inc., two companies recognized for their technological advances and efforts to save thousands of kilowatt-hours each year.
“For a person like me, an immigrant from a country on the other side of the world, who arrived with one piece of luggage and worked every type of job, this recognition has a lot of value,” said Sergio Bravo, founder of S. Bravo Systems.
The TELACU Education Foundation, a nonprofit that has helped advance educational opportunities for the Hispanic community since 1983, received the Community Partnership Award. SCE’s Diverse Business Enterprise Award went to electrical contractor Precision Electric.
“Our Hispanic Heritage Cultural Month event is our opportunity to show our appreciation to the communities we serve,” said Lisa Cagnolatti, vice president of SCE’s Business Customer Division. “Our partnerships with our business and community leaders is the cornerstone of the service we provide to our customers.”
Robert Laffoon Villegas contributed to this article.