By Aurora Saldivar
Thermal, Calif. – For the fifth consecutive year, Desert Mirage High School students walked to raise scholarship funds for their undocumented college-bound classmates.
“Cesar Chavez was focused on education for children, and what better way to honor him than with scholarships?” said Alfonso Taboada, Mexican American studies teacher and MEChA club advisor at DMHS.
The Fifth Annual Cesar Chavez 5K Walk/Run, put on by the school’s MECha Club on March 31, will provide at least three AB540 students with scholarships this year.
DMHS’s MEChA club has raised an average of $1,500 each year for AB540 scholarships. The club provides scholarships starting at $250 per student. Individual scholarships can run as high as $750-$1,000 through partnerships with Desert Mirage Athletic Booster Club, RAICES, Spanish Club, and F.I.R.M.E.
“The sad part is the check covers just one semester of books,” said Taboada with a sigh.
Taboada said that past scholarship recipients awarded by his MEChA Club, eight are attending College of the Desert and the rest attend various state schools.
“We are honoring Cesar Chavez who walked and worked in our area. Raising funds for AB540 students. Even though the DREAM act just passed, we have a lot of opposition from folks. I’m here to put my two cents in the mix,” said Carlos Gonzalez, 30, an Indio resident who walked alongside students.
In July 2011, the state of California enacted the California DREAM Act, giving illegal immigrant students access to private college scholarships for state schools.
According to a collaborative resource guide from Avidregion4.org, between 5,000- 8,000 eligible AB540 students resided in California in 2001. In the 2010-2011 school year, about 36,000 AB 540 students were enrolled in California community colleges, and 3,600 were enrolled in state universities.
To qualify as an AB540 student, undocumented students must:
- Have attended a California high school for three or more full academic years (between grades 9 through 12. They do not need to be consecutive years);
- Have or will graduate from a California high school or have attained a G.E.D.; or received a passing mark on the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE);
- Register or be currently enrolled at an accredited institution of public higher education in
- File or plan to file an affidavit as required by individual institutions, stating that he/she will apply for legal residency as soon as possible;
- Not hold a valid non-immigrant visa (F, J, H, L, A, E, etc.)
“This run is important to us mostly because we raise money for the AB540 students, but it also helps us with getting scholarships as well,” shared Daniela Valadez, a DMHS student who participated in the 5K. “I’m proud to be a MEChA member; we are like a family here.”
DMHS’s MEChA club works closely with scholarship recipients. In addition to being AB 540 students whose parents are farm workers, they are also youths active in their communities.
“The purpose is to promote social justice and empower the community through education,” said Taboada, a former MECHA student himself. “I think the major thing is recipients not only be active in the community but active participants in community who return back after becoming educated.”
“Return and open the door for the next person,” he added.
Santos Reyes and Brenda R. Rincon contributed to this story.