Migrant workers' daughter found roots in Valley

June 15, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

Beatriz Salto, 19, has finally found her roots in the rich soil of the Imperial Valley.

After years of moving, the daughter of migrant workers found a home in El Centro.

Now she is leaving that home for a new world at University of California, Riverside.

Salto graduated in the top 20 Thursday with the other 320 students from Central Union High School's class of 2001.

At the ceremony, salutatorian Tae Kon Kim, who spoke no English when he came to the United States from Brazil just five years ago, addressed his classmates.

Said Kim: "Right now we're all thinking ‘we finally made it.' Yes, high school is over, but we are not even close to being done. This is the beginning of the rest of our lives."

He thanked his parents "who suffered all these years just so I could study here."

Speaking in Korean, Kim, who also speaks Portuguese, said, "Mom, Dad, I love you."


Co-valedictorian William Castrey spoke to the memories the students will carry as they leave Central.

"This is a time to reflect on all that we have done," said Castrey.

He likened their time at Central to being in a family, with the teachers as "parents" and fellow classmates as "siblings."

Castrey said, "Anything we put our minds to is possible. Never forget the pride of the Spartans."

Quoting Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, co-valedictorian Marc Manix praised individuals who "dance to the beat of a different drum."

He challenged his classmates to do likewise as they go through life.

He used former teacher Simon Marquez and fellow graduate Dominic Signoretti as examples of individuals who were not afraid to "dance to the beat of a different drum."

"It is our time to pick up the pace, to be the leaders of the new millennium," said Manix.

He added, "If you didn't get anything out of my speech, if you didn't get anything out of high school, get something out of life."

Keynote speaker Ron Nicholson, a Central English teacher at the school, encouraged the graduates to "commit yourself to a life of love."

He asked the students to "extend to everyone around us the healing power of forgiveness."

Said Nicholson, "Love is the greatest weapon you have. Arm yourselves with love and go out and do battle."

Senior class counselor Leonor Felix said of Salto: "Being from a migrant family, she didn't consider herself disadvantaged. And she didn't let it stop her."

Salto is more modest about her success.

"I changed schools frequently," said Salto, conceding she had moved more than five times before fourth grade.

"We were lucky to stay in one place for four months at a time," she explained.

However, when she was in the fourth grade, her parents, who immigrated to the United States before her oldest brother was born, decided to settle in the Imperial Valley.

"This was a place where they said there was a lot of work," said Salto.

Her family first lived in Calipatria, then moved to El Centro when she was in the eighth grade.

"When we came here, it was the first time we were in one place for more than a year," said Salto.

The third child of five, Salto is not the first to leave home.

Her older brother, Marcelio, 21, joined the Marines and is in Japan.

Her older sister, Maria, 20, will be her roommate at UC Riverside.

"I picked UC Riverside because I'd visited there with AVID and I wanted to be with my sister, since we're very close," Salto explained.

Said Felix: "She has strong family ties."

Felix described Salto as being "very responsible" and a "role model for the school."

She said Salto recently was awarded the state award for "Ideal AVID Student." (AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college preparation program mainly for students from non-traditional educational backgrounds.)

Added Felix: "She wants to make a difference."

Rene Agundez, an English and AVID teacher at the high school, said Salto "has layers to her."

"She's very academic, very focused and mature … but she has a wonderfully, wicked sense of humor," said Agundez.

He continued, "She's extremely proactive, a great organizer and a fantastic leader."

Agundez said Salto was the club president for the AVID club and "led by example more than what she said."

"I don't think she knows the meaning of the words ‘underprivileged' or ‘victim.' Her circumstances don't affect her," said Agundez.

"She's only aware of the things she can affect and ways she can shape her future," he continued.

Salto has already decided her future. She wants to major in history and become a teacher.

She said her decision was influenced by her former teacher, Joe Derma, now principal at Bill Young Jr. Middle School in Calipatria.

"What motivated me to go into my career was my teacher in Calipat, Mr. Derma," she said, adding, "He made history fun."

Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.

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