by Donna McBride, Program Administrator/PIO and Supervisor for the CASA Unit, Pinal County Juvenile Court, Casa Grande City Councilwoman
Cesar Chavez was a man who brought honor to farm workers across the world. His name can be found on street signs, school buildings and even parks. So how did this man, years after his death, bring together two seniors – one being a teenage girl from the Tohono O’odham Nation and the other a lady from West Virginia? The answer: at the Cesar Chavez Memorial Scholarship Dinner in Casa Grande in early March!
I was honored to spend the evening with Ralphina Andres, of Vista Grande High School, who was a recipient of the scholarships, awarded to 50 deserving seniors. I was instantly drawn to her quiet demeanor and confident poise. Ralphina’s story is captivating in that it mirrors what many hear about every day – broken families, substance abuse and struggles of survival. But what makes hers unique is the way she has stood up against the odds to find good in these life lessons.
Ralphina travels by bus 90 minutes every morning to school. Her day is filled with classes, activities and helping in the office. She then gets back on the bus for another 90-minute ride home. Some kids find it to be too much of a hassle. Ralphina finds it a blessing. She credits her school counselor for helping her prepare for her future. She has applied to Brown University as well as other East-Coast schools. Her goal is to become a civil servant with the United Nations. She plans to come home after college and back to the Tohono O’odham nation.
Ralphina talked quietly about the troubles of the reservation and her involvement as a youth leader, representing her district on their youth council. After college, she will return home with a purpose. She wants to learn her native language to keep their culture alive for future generations. She wants to improve the education system on the reservation. And she wants to help build a community center. These are lofty goals for anyone, but Ralphina knows her people deserve it. She wants to be part of the solution.
She credits her grandmother as her saving grace. She is her guardian angel on earth. And when you read her essay that earned her a Cesar Chavez scholarship, you’ll understand why. In the world of violence, school shootings and broken dreams – this young lady reminds us all that it is not where we come from, but where we are going.
Cesar Chavez Scholarship Essay
By Ralphina Andres
I consider myself to be a multifaceted person, but simply put, I am a biracial girl—half black, half Native American—that lives on the Reservation. I believe that my living on the Tohono O’odham Nation has molded me into an introspective individual. It is on this land that I have sat in silence and listened to my elders tell of legends about our creator, I’toi, gifted medicine men (or “ma’chi), and how the Bluebird got its color. Through all the storytelling, I have found one theme that has prevailed among others: to fight against adversity, to obtain harmony, even if it is only with oneself. I aim to do this on a grand scale for the O’odham youth.
Yet, that the himdag (“culture”) of the Tohono O’odham Nation is being threatened by alcohol and drugs. At an early age, I became well acquainted with the effects of alcohol and how it altered the attitude of my relatives. The glass bottle in the brown paper bag, held with a firm grip, and poured with the head tipped back is an image that is seared into my memory. A couple of swigs later, my mother and her sisters would be having a ball. Then, someone would reference a bad memory or a grudge, and the façade would dissipate and a fight would ensue. They would leave weeping children in their wake, crying for peace. The police would soon enter the scene, bringing that peace, but at the cost of somebody leaving—usually to a jail cell for the night. This seemed to happen more often than not.
Those children that endured this alongside me are my cousins. Unfortunately, they would grow up to succumb to alcohol and drugs to cope with their wounds. Alden suffers the occasional psychosis and lives with pancreatitis. Marcus deals with depression and dyslexia. Delyla suffers from anxiety and suicidal tendencies.
Though we knew the capabilities of alcohol as children, we were all oblivious to the bad influences around us, for we wore rose-colored glasses like all kids at that age. But, alas, I would gain awareness and, with that awareness, a choice. I realized that my childhood wasn’t the best and they must’ve too. They took to the pipe or brown paper bag, while I latched on tight for dear life to my education that held promises of a better future.
I was fortunate to have a guardian angel in the form of my grandmother to encourage me to stay in school and excel. She is credited for my aspirations to do something great with my life. If only more O’odham youth had the encouragement like I had to envision the bright future that can come from an education!
The Tohono O’odham Reservation is filled with youth like Alden, Marcus, and Delyla, coming from dysfunctional families like mine. My heart mourns that my fellow O’odham youth must think they are fated to live out their lives just as their elders, but that isn’t true. Though we have no control over our past, we are solely responsible for who we will become. It is up to me to break the cycle of addiction and restore hope to my family lineage, and, ultimately, the Tohono O’odham Nation. I will come back to the reservation and help my people, but I can’t stay. I won’t allow it.