STOCKTON — Mariel Montes and her younger brother, Alexandro, grew up in a family that valued education.
Their parents Maribel and Miguel, immigrated to the United States from Mexico and met in Stockton, where they were married and raised their family. Maribel teaches third graders at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Stockton, and she and Miguel couldn’t be more proud, as both of their children recently graduated with honors: Mariel from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Alexandro from Franklin High School in Stockton.
“I’m very thankful to have awesome kids,” Maribel Montes said. “Since they were little kids, we always liked to read books to them. They always knew the importance of doing good in school and respecting their teachers and classmates. We reminded them what we expected them to do and we provided them with the tools to be successful in school.
Mariel and Alexandro were ever mindful of the sacrifices their parents made for them. Maribel is from Zacatecas and Miguel hails from Michoacán. Maribel came with her parents when she was 15 years old and learned English from her cousins, who already in the United States. She attended Edison High School, San Joaquin Delta College and Stanislaus State and earned a teaching credential. She has been a teacher since she was 22 years old. Miguel earned his associates of arts degree at Delta College and works for a large company.
Their work ethic and dedication to better themselves and their community through education made an impression on their kids.
“Their hopes were to give us a better life,” Mariel said. “We grew up with strong family values and education was a part of that and giving back to the community. It was definitely all tied together.”
Mariel, 21, was in the rigorous International Baccalaureate Program at Franklin High School and graduated in 2016 as the class valedictorian with a 4.85 grade point average on a 5.0 scale. While in high school, Mariel gave back to the community through her volunteer work to improve education and retention at elementary schools. At Franklin, her classmates predominantly were Hispanic and Latino, but at UCLA, a city unto itself with 45,000 students, of which 19% are Hispanic or Latino, the transition was somewhat difficult.
“It was a big culture shock” she said. “It definitely was something challenging for me to go there and be in an environment where diversity and representation is always there. That can be challenging in many ways.”
Mariel rose above the challenges and combined her academic interests with her passion to help people, especially those who are underrepresented. She developed an interest in mental health issues and researched addiction, substance abuse among minorities. Mariel double-majored in psychology and sociology and devoted herself to promoting education and mental health in underserved communities. She served with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and graduated this year Magna Cum Laude. She wants to go to graduate school and eventually earn her doctorate. But first, Mariel has accepted a position in the Resident Life Program at UCLA and will oversee resident advisors in the dormitories to help students’ mental health.
“I’m hoping to improve the quality of mental health for students living in the dorms and giving back to students, especially those in the Latino community, as well as from backgrounds like in Stockton that might be underrepresented in higher education,” she said.
Alexandro, 17, followed his sister’s footsteps at Franklin High, graduating this year as class valedictorian with a 4.86 GPA in the IB program. And like his sister, he was active on campus and in the community as President of the Spanish Club and a member of the National Honor Society. Alexandro also will attend UCLA, but he wants to study English with the goal of being a teacher, like his mother. Alexandro’s long-term goal is to be a school principal and ascend in the ranks of school administration.
“My experience as a Latino, I feel like the community and culture has impacted my life a lot,” Alexandro said. “A big part of that is the fact that much of my family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and a lot of my friends are children of immigrants. You really want to make them proud and make their sacrifices worth something.”
It’s been a tough year for seniors in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which closed campuses nationwide. Alexandro and his classmates missed out on prom, their senior trip, their graduation ceremony and much more.
“But at the same time, we had other experiences, like a virtual graduation, that were different in their own ways,” he said.
Alexandro said most of his friends are his classmates and though initially he was happy he didn’t have to go to his stressful classes on campus, he soon realized he missed it.
“When we realized we weren’t going to be going back, some of my friends I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye,” he said. “That was a big part of it.”
Alexandro said he is super excited to go college. He said everyone, including his sister, have told how fun it will be and how much he will grow as a person.
“But I’m scared the coronavirus is going to mess that up,” he said. “We’re not sure if I can go on campus for my first semester. But we can still go and get the full experience and do all the typical college stuff.”
Alexandro said whatever happens, he will make the best of it and make his family proud.