Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream" – a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.
Jesus Moran's parents struggled when they arrived to the United States from El Salvador.
His father lost his job in construction during a wave of layoffs and now works at a car wash. His mother has been a housekeeper for 14 years for the same family. So when it came to their children, they wanted them to achieve more.
“It was always kind of an unsaid thing that me and my three brothers would go to college,” Moran explains. “There wasn’t any pressure, but there was this mindset that we must go to college so we could avoid the struggles my parents went through.”
So when Moran received his college acceptance e-mail, he took a screen shot on his smart phone and posted it on Facebook. Fifty-nine friends liked the picture and it elicited 33 comments.
The letter said he was accepted into Harvard University.
"When I first got the e-mail I kind of didn’t believe it." Moran said. "It took about 5 minutes before I could go back to my e-mail and read what it said. It was surreal."
Hispanic and Latino males made up 4 percent of undergraduate degrees given by Harvard in 2011, according to the 2011 Harvard University Fact Book.
There wasn’t any pressure, but there was this mindset that we must go to college so we could avoid the struggles my parents went through.
- Jesus Moran
But college was not the expected path for many kids living where Moran grew up.
“My high school was in the center of South LA, one of the most crime-infested cities in the world. Everywhere I turned it seemed there were people addicted to drugs or involved in gangs.”
Instead of succumbing to this environment, however, Moran and his peers were motivated to gain an education in hopes of improving their community.
"Our community is one of the poorest around. It has given [me and my friends] a shock and a realization that we have to strive and be better," he said. "We realized we couldn’t succumb to the pressures of our community. Instead we wanted to try to find solutions.”
While Moran grew up in a high-crime area, he says he was able to find a supportive group of peers through the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, described as “a rigorous, seven-year pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for admission to a college or university.”
For Moran, the program significantly changed his life.
"The USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative program is one of the biggest factors that have helped me," he shares gratefully. "They are the ones that guided me, provided me mentors, and helped me figure out which classes to take to get into prestigious colleges. It shaped me to become who I am now.”
While Moran admitted not everyone may have a program like NAI, he said, “I think there are resources out there in any community to provide that knowledge and information. It’s important for students everywhere to build relationships with counselors and teachers because those relationships will take you far.”
For Moran, those relationships and support programs have taken him all the way to the top university in the country.
But Moran is highly aware that beating the odds also comes with some additional challenges.
"I am so proud of my Hispanic culture and I really do hope my success is more evidence that we can do it," he said. "I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about being seen as the minority student on scholarship, standing out amongst the people whose parents are able to write the tuition checks."
After briefly discussing his fears, Moran quickly turns to the positive, talking about how he is looking forward to finding his own “rhythm” at Harvard, studying government and Spanish.
“I’ve had dreams of being the president one day," he said. "Of course, I know my aspirations will evolve as I learn more. What is most important to me is that I leave my footprint on this world and do something that is positive.”
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Isa Adney is a Fox News Latino Education and Community Columnist and the author of Community College Success (NorLights Press, 2012), available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. She advises students across the country on how to break socio-economic barriers and build positive educational communities. You can connect with Isa on Twitter, Facebook, and www.isaadney.com.
For story ideas e-mail isa at firstname.lastname@example.org