by Guadalupe Broetje, Scholars Coordinator and Jesenia Hernandez, Program Assistant, Vista Hermosa Foundation
First Fruits Scholars Cesar and Karen Castañeda graduated with bachelor’s degrees from Washington State University in 2019 and 2020 respectively. We had the honor of seeing their confidence grow during their educational journey as first-generation college students. One of the biggest goals of the Scholars Program is that students transform into servant leaders, seeing beyond their own needs, wants, and desires to help others—in particular the most vulnerable. Cesar and Karen have been doing just that in their own family.
For the last 6 months their father Mario Castañeda has been on a path to reach his own academic goals. As a teen living in Mexico, he had to abandon his education to help provide for his family. There were few job opportunities and making a living was hard in his rural coastal town. When Mario started his own family, he and his wife made the difficult decision to immigrate to the United States. For 24 years, they have been rooted in the same orchard where they have lived, worked, and raised their children. Now that the two oldest have accomplished their academic goals, Mario can focus on his.
This dream is not something recent or sudden. Mario became emotional as he recalled, “I’ve always had the hope and desire to establish a career. In Mexico, it’s costly to go to school. Some days you’d have to leave school to work, and you would have to work 2-3 days to be able to pay for a month of schooling. I had to decide between school or my family—my mom and sister—and I ended up leaving high school. That was the first time I had to put my dream aside. Once we were here [in the U.S.], my kids grew up and finished school. When we saw that they wanted to pursue college, again I had a decision to make. Support my kids to complete their studies, or start my journey? During that time I had finished my GED and was ready to enroll in college. But I said okay, they come first. My family always comes first.”
Like many agricultural workers, Mario has thought about what will happen when he is no longer able to work at the same pace he did as a younger man. He is discerning which path is best, combining his interest in mechanics with his passion for helping others into a possible career in health services. With love and care, his wife and children shared advice with Mario in a recent conversation. Cesar proudly told his dad, “Well, it’s finally your time. I know it will be difficult… but we are here to help. Sometimes we will be tired from work…but when you need help we will be there… Take some time to have fun and more than anything, keep going!”
“Give it your all. I will be here making food so when you’re hungry you can come and eat,” his wife smiled, “We will see what happens. God willing, you’ll succeed.”
Karen says, “I am happy. I’ve been able to help him with financial aid and enrollment. When school starts, I can’t help as much because he’ll be on his own path, but I am trying to make it as easy as possible for him to begin this journey.
We send prayers to the Castaneda family, trusting in God that together they will finally see a long-awaited dream become a reality. With the help of Cesar and Karen, we know that Mario is not alone. The wisdom and knowledge of his family will guide him when he is feeling lost and will cheer him on along the way. When the tunnel he is now entering becomes dark and the light behind him fades away, his family will be the gleaming light on the other side, shining a way for him.