Walking from the two dedicated floors to Hispanic students, Latino Floor at Fluor Tower, adjacent to the historic Cafe ’84 and Olympic venues on the University of Southern California campus in South Central Los Angeles to class in the mid-1990s was a dream come true.
The school I wanted to go to, the University of Arizona, was constrained by my status as a non-resident (not to be confused with citizenship), and I was unable to pay yearly tuition, which I believe was in the neighborhood of $40,000 in 1995, including room and board.
When I read the news regarding Operation Varsity Blues, that 1995 tuition was just a small percentage of the bribes it took to get Lori Loughlin’s “social influencers” into the school so many of us dedicated a high school career to achieve.
Schools like USC have always had legacy admissions. The public as a whole didn’t think twice about these students taking spots from other students, myself included. If your family founded the school, that’s merit in itself because many of those families were still active donors or had living trusts guaranteeing schools millions more in future donations.
Thousands of Mexican-Americans like me were first-generation college students 25 years ago because the doors to education had been shut to us or we had been guided to the military, trade schools, or the local labor force.
Having a finger pointed at you daily because you took someone’s spot who was deserving was the popular opinion at many of our nation’s prestigious universities.
Sorry, Aunt Becky, but you live in a Full of Shit House. And it’s only going to get fuller in the penitentiary.
USC Says Yes
My USC acceptance story caught me by surprise. I had resigned myself to attend my designated fallback school, Texas A&M University, which like the U of A, had hosted me during the summer in a program designed to boost minority enrollment and college success. My best friend and I had already signed up to be roommates, and our high school was hosting an awards banquet for graduating seniors. The crowning moment of that banquet was announcing where we would attend college.
The afternoon of the banquet, I received my acceptance letter to USC with a financial offer that all but covered a four-year tuition.
Ironically, my college essay was about a cheating scandal at my elementary school on a standardized state test that I submitted on a floppy disc to the USC admissions board. I had to deal with being the “narc” in my school district for years after writing that essay. To this day, since the scandal involved influential members of my community, I really wonder if USC reported the incident to the Texas Education Agency, just in the same way I wonder if the men in black masks raiding a home in my neighborhood were actually police officers after the Panama Unit scandal that rocked our border community.
My Father’s Words
Three years prior to that awards banquet, my father had taken me aside in the hallway of our home after I came home with my first F.
Lupe, Sr. was a labor leader in the now defunct steel industry of LaPorte, Indiana. My extended family were pioneers in Northern Indiana, and I still have plenty of family in the area who continue to blaze paths like their parents did during the Civil Rights era. And as you can imagine, eventually going to USC was viewed upon as a crime since we all grew up Notre Dame fans.
My father labored in hot fields and later among hot furnaces to provide for his family. Many in my family did, and that is what he brought to my attention that day in our hallway.
All those sacrifices only to see his namesake perform so poorly in high school. During those early 1990s, gang violence and activity was seemingly at an all time high in Hidalgo County, Texas. I teetered on the edge of joining a local gang.
That’s the only time I saw my father cry.
“I can’t afford to send you to college. If you want to get anywhere in life, you’re going to have to work for it. I know you want to go to school and I can’t afford it. I don’t want you to have my life, I want you to do better.”
Back to USC
My college roommate at USC once posted a series of photos of the Wilshire Grand, from the foundation to the tallest point, where he put his civil engineering degree to use.
I know what his family went through to put him, his younger sister and brother through college. Many times I was a guest in his home. (They are the best family mariachi group I’ve ever heard.)
We were both in an introductory Physics course, which was a polite way of saying you can’t take Physics until you pass pre-Physics, Calculus I and Chemistry lab partners freshmen year. What was easy to me was a challenge for him. I know how hard he studied and dedicated himself to his future career.
Don’t tell me all these children involved in Operation Varsity Blues are innocent. Many of us college graduates know what it took to get into college, stay in college, and pay for college.
As for me?
I began to lose my voice at USC.
It was a psychosomatic symptom as a result of the constant stares, classroom opinions that minorities didn’t deserve to be at the school, anti-Affirmative Action opinions published in the school newspaper, and the daily walk around campus.
A majority of my classes had separate discussion classes and since I was leaning toward political science and law school, those years were rough. Did I mention that the O.J. trial was the highlight of my first semester at USC?
I’d open my mouth to speak and I couldn’t.
I developed a stutter.
As an introvert who wanted to become a lawyer and elected official, I joined our school’s nationally recognized theater group. I trained and studied the art. I wasn’t the best, but I’ve acted in front of thousands. NO ONE would believe that I couldn’t deliver a speech at a moment’s notice.
Participating in class with this disease when discussions were centered on students like me only aggravated the problem.
Unlike the Loughlin women, I couldn’t hide in plain sight among the USC student body.
One day I was wearing a high school shirt at the gym and a guy stopped, recognized my school’s theater group, scoffed and walked away deridingly speaking its name, “PSJA North.”
Like Milton’s Lucifer, wherever I go is Mexico!
I feared I would lose my voice.
I shudder to think that someone like Dr. George Tyndall would offer me his own cure for my affliction.
The Daily Trojan didn’t have a Mexican-American Viewpoint writer on staff.
I had finally found my voice by giving one to others like me!
How It Changed
Those picturesque walks down McClintock Avenue to classes, passing the future Olympic hopefuls in diving and swimming, Trojan football players crossing the street to practice, watching the marching band practice where I jogged every night, were now filled with salutations from friends congratulating me on sharing our views in the student paper.
My voice would eventually land me in trouble as I was jumped by a fraternity at an off-campus party for exposing a racially motivated attack on the school’s Greek Row.
After school officials decided to do nothing, I spray-painted Tommy Trojan with what I thought was a swastika but was actually a Hindu peace sign pictured in the dictionary I’ve used my entire lifetime under the entry for said Nazi image.
I was jailed by the Los Angeles Police Department near campus until I saw a man stare into my holding cell. Later, I looked on the school website and discovered he was an administrator at USC.
LAPD’s finest turned me loose in South Central. I asked them to point the way to USC because to this day I don’t remember if I walked all the way back or if they offered me a ride back to campus.
Needless to say, I didn’t graduate from USC and I turned out fine. My friend said I was an urban myth at the school since I did what no UCLA Bruins could do.
While Mossimo Giannulli and Loughlin are doing time, I hope that brings them comfort.
Your children aren’t Bill Gates, but they’ll land on their feet after they’ve left USC.
The supportive cast of family values that was a cornerstone of TGIF, Bob Saget, the Olsen Twins, Cameron Candace Bure, and the rest of the Tanners will proudly stand behind your efforts as parents and proclaim “We got you, dude!”
How It Changed Again
My three years preparing for USC Law School and subsequent transfer was the foundation for my current work in life.
Without a law degree, I’ve successfully defended myself against false charges brought against me by the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office and the City of Pharr Police Department.
When I ran for Mayor, a stepping stone to what I believed would be a long career in the U.S. Senate, a police officer planted drugs in my vehicle. As they realized their mistake, they began tampering with evidence and witnesses. They submitted false requests for opinions to the Texas Office of the Attorney General to help conceal their crimes and falsified police records.
I was found not guilty in large part because all these falsified internal affairs reports didn’t match the video that mysteriously disappeared during discovery and reappeared after the State rested its prima facie case (the only legal term I actually know), nor the jailer’s report and observations I was arrested.
However, not to be outdone, the same officers tried to frame me for resisting arrest when I was sitting at a public meeting. Again, not guilty.
Lastly, the D.A.’s office and the City of Pharr enlisted the help of a district judge to make sure that I couldn’t escape trumped-up charges of resisting arrest in a vehicle, my third arrest and indictment in 18 months due to running for office along the border to expose corruption and voter fraud.
I was convicted and served my probation like a good boy, but like every politician, I found opportunity in crisis.
Finding My New Voice
I’m a certified teacher giving back to my community, which is something I learned from the better half at USC.
I don’t build skyscrapers and football stadiums like my college roommate.
I’m still trying to help my community earn every right entitled to all Americans, regardless of their ethnic background.
In this millennial age, millions of us follow those that don’t lead, and friend those they don’t know. Influence is now currency.
I’m using my voice to help and lead others, not to sell them college bedding, make-up, and other viral nonsense.
Lupe Chavez, Jr. tweets from @lupechavezjr.