LOS ANGELES – Mexican immigrant Catalino Tapia was a very young man when he came to California and started a gardening service, and then, aware of the importance of learning, founded an organization to help the children of other gardeners get a college education.
“I crossed the border in 1964 when I was 20, having only studied up to the 6th grade, without knowing anyone and with $6 in my pocket,” Tapia said in an interview with Efe.
Like so many other immigrants, Tapia worked at whatever jobs were going – washing dishes and cars, “helping out in flower shops and gardening.”
Later he worked as a lathe operator in a factory that made safes, but when the company closed down in 1982, Catalino, who worked at gardening on weekends, started his own business.
From the outset he and his wife Margarita were keenly aware of how important it was to save money for the education of their sons Adel and Noel.
“We started saving what little we could from the time they were tots,” he said.
Though the older brother didn’t want to continue studying and preferred to concentrate on business, the younger continued his studies and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
“Seeing one of my sons graduate from such a prestigious university, I thought: “I could never have hoped or dreamed that one of my kids would reach this level of education,” Tapia said.
But he was also struck by seeing that “only a handful of Latinos graduated and I thought, ‘If there’s so many of us, why do so few of us graduate?”
That was when he got the idea of creating a foundation to help needy young Hispanics.
In 2002, Noel Tapia and another two attorneys, Maribel Medina and Miguel Marquez, gave him all the legal advice necessary to create the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation, whose primary goal is to help the children of gardeners go to college.
Up to now the foundation has helped 112 young people from low-income families.
The first five young people who received scholarships were “invited to my house and I chatted a little about my life,” Catalino Tapia remembers. “Then I asked them to tell me something about their lives. They all started talking and when we got to the fifth person, Ana Carranza, she was bathed in tears and so moved she couldn’t even talk.”
A few weeks later a local newspaper printed an article about Carranza in which she told her life story and about the help she had received. Two months later, Ana’s school received a call from an anonymous donor who offered to pay for her four-year course at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
With that donation, Ana could finish her nursing studies. Now she’s one of the people who will attend this Saturday’s gala to celebrate the foundation’s 10 years of helping kids get a college degree. EFE