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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 15th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 32

A mixtecan student draws inspiration from D.C.


Washington Youth Leadership Seminar attendees got dressed up for their days on Capitol Hill, where due to the government shutdown they were unable to tour any monuments or meet with any representatives.

Editor’s note: This article is one in a series that follows up on the Sun’s May 30 cover story, “Reaching across the divide.”

Santa Maria High School junior Luis Santos was one of 50 Latino students huddled together in a room under lockdown for an hour and a half in the U.S. Capitol Building the afternoon of Oct. 3.

“We didn’t actually know what was happening,” Santos said. “Some of the chaperones were on their phones, worried.”

A 34-year-old woman from Stamford, Conn. chose that afternoon to ram her car into the White House gates and lead law enforcement officials on a chase through the capital. Anyone inside the U.S. Capitol Building was put on lockdown. Officers later shot and killed the woman, who had a 1-year-old in the car with her.

It was an unfortunate way for high school students visiting the nation’s capitol to get introduced to Washington, D.C. The students who joined Santos on his journey were juniors and seniors selected from high schools across the country to participate in the League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LULAC) annual Washington Youth Leadership Seminar from Oct. 2 through 6. The seminar serves as a chance for Latino student leaders to become more politically and culturally aware, and to experience what it’s like to be in the heart of politics.

This year, though, rather than seeing how government functions, the crew of future leaders got to explore Washington, D.C. during a government shutdown. Santos was one of seven students selected from California to go on the trip and the only student selected from the Central Coast. He said he applied for the seminar because he wanted to learn more about what it meant to be a leader.

While Santos said he learned a lot from his 49 other peers and the seminar’s leaders, the students were unable to tour any monuments or meet with any representatives while they were in the capital.

“We weren’t able to go into [anything], but we were able to go up to them and get a real close look, see what the monuments were, what they represent,” Santos said.

What those monuments represented to Santos was a vision of his future as a leader for Latino students in Santa Maria.

Santos was born and raised in the United States, but both of his parents are immigrants from San Juan Mixtepec, a Mixtecan city in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He told the Sun that the biggest challenges he faces in school are discrimination from peers, as well as his parents’ lack of a quality education.

It’s not that his parents don’t want him to gain a good education; they just don’t know how to support him in achieving it.

Struggles started for Santos in elementary school, when his family moved from Fresno to Santa Maria. Santos said it was his skin color that separated him from the other kids.

“They were U.S. citizens and they thought I wasn’t because of the color of my skin and the way I was dressed,” he said.

He is dark-skinned, and his family was fairly poor with four children when they first moved to the area. They moved around a lot because his parents only had seasonal work and sometimes had a hard time paying rent. Santos attended four elementary schools, and he said the bullying he faced at all of them made it hard for him to feel confident in his abilities or even to want to attend school.

Now, things are different for the Santos family. Life has become more stable. His mother and father both work seven days a week in the strawberry fields and his dad also works a second job in a restaurant five or six days a week.

Santos said he still gets bullied at school, but he pays less attention to it now than he did when he was younger. It doesn’t seem as important. He sees helping his community and pursuing his future as the most important things. 

Though he said he’s not the best student in the world, he’s starting to get help from school counselors and support from the LULAC youth group, which formed in 2012. Mechanical engineering at Cal Poly or MIT is the goal he’s set for himself and he plans to fight his way through until he achieves it.

It’s a future that doesn’t really register as a possibility with his family. It’s not even on the planning radar, much less the actual horizon.

A semblance of that feeling greeted Santos when he told his folks about being selected to participate in the leadership seminar.

“[My parents] were actually shocked. They didn’t believe me because they knew that a trip to Washington, D.C. is really expensive,” Santos said. “And my parents thought they were dreaming, but it was a reality. This stuff doesn’t happen for a Mixtecan family.”

The trip came all-expenses-paid except for the plane ticket, which Santos paid for with help from the community. Now that he’s back, the high school student is determined to teach with Latinos in Santa Maria that anything is a possibility.

Through a grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara, Santos and other LULAC youth members helped organize community service events during 2013 to get the word out about gang violence and drug use in the community. Santos is hoping to do something similar to “help bring people [out] from their shells,” and encourage them to not get discouraged when they feel the pressures of bullying.

Conversations Santos had with fellow LULAC youth members at the seminar showed him that he shouldn’t give in to his doubts, but rather push forward as a leader by making his life an example to others.

“It really shows me that I can actually be a good leader in this community,” Santos said. “For me, it’s something that you show to the community.”

Anyone interested in learning more about LULAC within the Santa Maria area can look the organization up on Facebook, or e-mail


Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at

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