What a wonderful evening we had last Thursday during our Night of Dreams event! The goal of Night of Dreams or Noche de Sueños was to educate parents and students from the East End community about the opportunities available to make a college education possible.The event took off with a handful of inspirational speakers with backgrounds similar to the ones of our student population. That is first-generation college, low-income, Latino students, etc. Our first special guest speaker was Lieutenant Romeo Garcia III from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Lt. Garcia is currently an Admissions Counselor at the US Naval Academy where he recruits qualified students from all over the US. Lt. Garcia made several points that are very evident and real in the Hispanic community from the East End. 1. We are afraid of allowing our young adults to go away for college. And 2. We are afraid of dreaming “too big”. Deciding on a college or university is one of the biggest decisions a high school grad has to make. And, a lot of the times, this decision is made as a family. When making this decision, however, it’s imperative that goals and objectives for the student are kept in mind. To choose a university that will help achieve the highest, utmost dreams is the goal of a high school graduate- where ever this university is.
Our second guest speaker was Austin High School’s alumni, Mr. Rick Villanueva. Rick graduated from Austin High School in 1998. Like many of the students in the East End population, Villanueva struggled to get through high school. He not only had to play the role of being a responsible student but also play the role of the male figure who helps provide for his family. After his father became consumed by drugs and alcohol, Villanueva helped his mother and siblings survive. He became part of a single mother household where money soon ran out. Inevitably, he and his family became homeless. Villanueva talked about finding mattresses in trash piles and feeling happy at that moment because it meant a “better” night sleep for his family. His story is truly one for the books of champions and successors of our Latino community. I was overjoyed to have Rick participate in Night of Dreams as a speaker. Our parents and students who struggle in the way Rick did need to hear for themselves that through hardships one can still prevail. Villanueva attended Rice University and currently works for Valero Energy in the engineering department. What’s more amazing about this man is that he chooses to help his community by sharing his story and inspiring the Latino community. As an educator, my only hope is to see more students like Villanueva not feel defeated by life’s circumstances but move forward to work hard for a better life.
The evening continued to a college fair where schools from all over Texas had the opportunity to recruit students and inform them about academic programs available. During our college fair, we also had AMAZING dinner sponsored by Pollo Tropical and Kroger. To start off, the food arrived perfectly warm and in amazing quantities. The pollo was absolutely tender and incredibly fresh, all parents and students came back for seconds! My favorite thing, however, about Pollo Tropical is their rice and beans. My goodness, they are the best. I’m not sure if it’s because I am Hispanic and rice and beans are part of my culture, but the way they season the beans at Pollo Tropical makes me feel like I am eating from my mother’s kitchen. Delicious doesn’t even cut it! And of course, if you know Pollo Tropical you know they advocate for a healthier dinner. I love the fact that their delicious chicken is grilled and that they also catered salad to our event. The salad is best accompanied with their signature Cilantro Garlic Dressing that is so rich in flavor you only need a tad bit to make your salad even more tasteful. Or, if you are like me, you will just sprinkle the dressing on everything. Haha. It’s so delicious! To go along with this amazing dinner we had fruit, drinks, chips, and cookies sponsored by Kroger. My students and I created this beautiful delicious fruit salad with fresh fruits from Kroger. I love Kroger not only because their produce is incredibly fresh, but their fruit selection at this time of the year was amazing! We got some fruits that are “out of season”, but they tasted so sweet and tasty once we added them to our salad. And of course, if you are a Latino in Houston, you have more than likely tried Tajin. Tajin is a Mexican spice added to fruits and cocktails for a kick of spice and tanginess. As if there aren’t enough reasons to love Kroger, another is that they carry multicultural ingredients, such as Tajin. Such a sweet combination to add to our evening feast for our Night of Dreams.
Overall, Nigh of Dreams accomplished the objective of educating parents and students with immigrant, low income, and without higher education backgrounds about ways to make a college education possible. Night of Dreams was about challenging parents to dream larger for their sons and daughters. It was about daring each student to get out of their comfort zone to work hard and dream big. We would like to thank all of our speakers and college representatives for creating such a nice atmosphere for our student body. One of the greatest parts of this event was that it required and involved many of our student’s help. We thank each and every one of them for dedicating their evening to helping me and Austin staff put the event together. We thank our amazing sponsors: Pollo Tropical and Kroger, for helping our community by being present in a very important way: through food and nourishment. “Be the change you want to see in the world”- this quote kept ringing in my ears through the planning of this wonderful event. I want our Latino community in Houston to show the world how truly amazing we can be if we only believe we can. Showing and teaching those who are oblivious or ignorant to opportunities is the way to build the community. I am sick and tired of living in a place of competition where once you “make it”, there’s no helping anyone else. “Empowerment” is another term that was ringing in my ear while putting this event together. We must empower our community and believe that we can make it. As someone once said, believe you can and you’re halfway there.