Monday, Jul 9, 2018
Face of Success: Victor Pineda
Like many high school graduates, Victor Pineda is basking in happy memories from his recent high school graduation. He’s excited to begin college in the fall at UC Davis where his goal is to become a teacher. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago Victor’s future was anything but bright. In fact, as a young boy living among gang violence in El Salvador, his life was in constant danger.
At his mother’s insistence, 14-year-old Victor and his younger brother fled from the horrific gang violence that was threatening their lives. After months of confinement in an Immigration Detention Center, both were granted asylum and placed in foster care. Despite having faced circumstances that would overwhelm a healthy adult let alone a child, Victor was determined to care for himself and his brother.
But life wasn’t easy. The language, the people, the food, everything was so different in the U.S. Going to school was a struggle. Starting in his freshman year, Victor faced a huge barrier: learning English. During his classes, he had a hard time understanding the material. It was also hard for him to make friends because he did not speak English. Kids bullied him and he felt frustrated and isolated.
“I found the only solution was to challenge myself to learn English and stop worrying about what everyone else said about me,” Victor explains. “It was the best decision that I could have ever made.”
At the beginning of his sophomore year, Victor received guidance and support from Adam Escoto, his Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). As a former foster youth, high school principal and long-time South County resident, Adam helped Victor adjust to his new school and life in Gilroy.
"Anything I needed help with, he knew someone for that," Victor remarks. “He really helped me get connected with others in my town.”
With Adam’s encouragement, Victor began serving as a volunteer tutor in the Power School program at Rod Kelley elementary school where he helped children learn English. The children at the school were mostly Latino whose first language was Spanish. Victor could identify with their challenges.
“I so identified with them because just like them, I also had to learn English three years ago when I first came to the United States. I could relate to their struggle trying to learn a new language and just wanted to help them,” explains Victor.
With Adam’s encouragement, Victor became more involved at school, joining several clubs including the Sister Cities Club, National Honors Society Club, Interact Club and Soccer Club. As his confidence built, Victor decided to start a Latin Club to empower Latinos at school to be proud of their heritage and help non-Latino students become more aware of their traditions and culture. After seeing Victor’s leadership on campus, members of the Associated Student Body asked him to run for Vice President. He did and became the first non-native English speaker Student Body Vice President at the school. During the summer, Victor attended Student Council meetings to help his classmates plan activities for the new school year. He created a hospitality committee to make sure students, particularly new students, felt welcome.
"I was in charge of welcoming new students, speakers, and visitors,” Victor says proudly.
Additionally, Victor served on the English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) where he advised the principal and school staff on programs and services for English learners. He was also chosen by the principal to become a member of the School Site council to represent the student body in meetings to develop, review and evaluate school improvement programs.
“As I got more involved at school, school became my home. I found happiness, confidence, and support – everything I had lost when I left El Salvador,” Victor explains.
Victor credits his CASA Adam for helping him adjust to his new life and aspire to attend college.
“Adam is my inspiration. One day, I hope to be not only a great principal as he was but the amazing person that he is. Without Adam, I would not be here today. I am extremely thankful to have people like him in my life. He is constantly keeping up with me and is the one that makes me think about all the different possibilities, opportunities and doors I can open if I believe in myself,” says Victor.
Victor says that Adam helped him dream about his future and made him feel that he could achieve anything he set his mind to.
“Adam says ‘when you grow up, how would you like your movie to be? How would you like your story to be told?’ and I have come to the conclusion that I want it to be like his. I want to help everyone around me without denial or hesitation. Adam is the person that I aspire to be,” Victor declares.
This fall, Victor will head off to UC Davis to study and become the teacher he aspires to be. Cheering him on during this exciting new phase of his life will be his CASA Adam.
“There are no barriers for Victor,” Adam explains. “Victor began high school as an English language learner and yet distinguished himself by achieving academic honors in advanced placement classes and fully participating and excelling in extracurricular activities, including community service. Victor possesses true grit, resiliency and a determination and drive to succeed. He has faced the loss of his country, the separation from his family and friends, and he has emerged as a sensitive, compassionate, and caring young person, now heading off to college. I know he will realize his dream of becoming a teacher.”
As for Victor, he is looking forward to being the first person in his family to attend college.
“I want to make all my mom’s efforts of me coming to the United States worth it. I want to make her proud.”