Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Gardener Plants Seeds for the Future

There is a man by the name of Catalino Tapia of Redwood City, California, who came to the United States, from Mexico, at age 20 with $6 in his pocket. Over the past 43 years, he has worked as a baker and a machine operator. His education never went beyond 6th grade. However, through hard work he eventually built a successful gardening business. He married and raised two children. One son graduated from Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley and is now an attorney in Los Angeles.

This story is not about this young immigrant’s rise to success, although it easily could have been. It is about a man who sees the inimitable value of education and his philanthropic vision. Mr. Tapia, with his son’s legal help, founded The Bay Area Gardener’s Foundation. It’s purpose: to give college scholarships to low-income students from the Bay area. He is a man of modest means, and from what I gleaned from an interview I recently listened to, of modest personality, as well. He believes “it is his duty to pass along the prosperity he has earned, to draw community members together for a shared goal and to be accountable for the well-being of the next generation.” Hmmm.

His Board consists of a dozen other immigrant gardeners and other community members who see the value in helping struggling students take the edge off some of their financial responsibilities by offering funds for books, transportation and other incidental expenses -- costs that may not amount to a lot for some, but for others it is the difference of working an extra job to raise these funds. Any student who has at least 2.5 GPA is eligible, even if he/she is an undocumented alien. Everyone on the Board agrees that, “"no matter what, they're going to have their education. So even though they don't have their papers and even though they might not be able to get a job with their Social Security number, no one will be able to take away their education."

The main group that the Foundation has reached so far has been Latino High School students. Only 13 percent of U.S.-born Latino adults in California have a bachelor's degree, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. For immigrant Latinos, it is 5 percent. This is a startling figure. The US Congress has failed to pass the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), on numerous occasions. This Act, if passed, would allow undocumented students who grew up in the US to qualify for a permanent Green card. What better incentive to encourage students to continue their studies?

Education is the vehicle by which millions of individuals can better their lives. In one little corner of our country, one man has made this his mission and I applaud him for his sincerity and commitment to his cause.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we might all take a second glance at how we can reach out to other communities by volunteering our time or resources. One of the Bay Area Gardener Foundation donors said it perfectly:

“It's extraordinary to see a body of people who are struggling to make it in America also struggling for other people's children. ... Is that not grasping the American dream?"


Anonymous said...

beautiful thought for Thanksgiving...
the key word being "giving"

Your story made me think of a favorite Robert Kennedy quote:

"You live in the most privileged nation on earth. You are the most privileged citizens of that privileged nation...You can use your enormous privilege and opportunity to seek purely private pleasure and gain. But history will judge you, and as the years pass, you will ultimately judge yourself, on the extent to which you have used your gifts to lighten and enrich the lives of your fellow man."

A modest gardener, Mr Tapia, certainly found his way to enrich the lives of hundreds of students.

thanks as always for your thought provoking essays

a friend

Carol said...

WOW. A couple of things here really spoke to me!

I went to junior high school in Redwood City (Kennedy).

AND -- In 2002 - 2003 we did a lot of filming of FUEL (http://fuel.chef.org/DesktopDefault.aspx) in the Bay Area and worked with groups like the People's Grocery in West Oakland (which Catalino probably knows about) and the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. If we were still in production, I'd try to interview Catalino! What a great story!


Julie Pippert said...

What an awesome story!!

It really hits on some things I've been mulling recently and that's the concept in an entrepreneurial and educational opportunity available for Hispanics in Latino-dominated ares ( like mine).

It's a class issue. I can't really elaborate because it's so messy in my mind yet.

But this story might help.


Using My Words

Don Mills Diva said...

Very inspirational - there are some beautiful stories of the human spirit if only we look beyond the rather depressing headlines in the paper each day. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.

Leslie said...

Thank-you. I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. I am glad you found some inspiration from this story. I was very moved by it.

TIV: the individual voice said...

What a generous and wise man. Thanks for bringing him and his work to my attention on a post-Thankgsgiving Day when the front page of the Boston Globe has a giant photo of Europeans hauling giant Macy's bags filled with their bargain-priced unnecessities because of the cheap dollar. Now why couldn't your story about this man giving instead of buying being on the front page instead?

Leslie said...


Thanks for your comment -- glad you stopped by for a visit.