Immigrant gardeners provide seed money for college scholarships

While some groups exist to promote fear and hatred there are still many people out there that expend their energies promoting positive growth and learning. People like Catalino Tapia are acceptional human beings that understand the real goal of a society – to grow through altruism and positive interaction.

Immigrant gardeners provide seed money for college scholarships – Full Story
Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, October 15, 2007
Catalino Tapia came to the United States at age 20 with $6 in his pocket. He worked hard, as a baker and a machine operator, and eventually started his own gardening business. He and his wife bought a home in Redwood City and raised their two sons, putting the eldest through college.

Though he never studied beyond sixth grade, Tapia was so inspired to see his son, Noel, graduate from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley that he decided to help other young Peninsula people make it to college. Now 63, the Mexican immigrant is giving back to the country he says has given him so much.

With legal help from his son, Tapia established a nonprofit corporation, the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation, and recruited a dozen other immigrant gardeners to join the board. This year, the foundation gave out nine scholarships of $1,500, almost double what it distributed in 2006, its first year.

Education is fundamental to this country and efforts to curtail the gift of it, to those desirous of learning, makes no sense whether we’re talking about children of legal or illegal immigrants.

“In fact, taking tamales to the church potluck or reading in the classroom – all those little acts are philanthropic,” said Santamaría. “Philanthropy means love of humankind. We’ve got to spin a much better view of what immigrants are contributing. … And Catalino is taking it to a different level.”

The Gardeners Foundation is a wonderful example for the students, Mohr said. “It’s extraordinary to see a body of people who are struggling to make it in America also struggling for other people’s children. … Is that not grasping the American dream?”

In Washington, Senate Democrats hope for a renewed debate later this fall on the DREAM Act, a long-stalled bill that would offer legal residence to undocumented students who grew up in the United States and are bound for college or the military. Closer to home, a bill dubbed the California Dream Act would have made some state financial aid available to undocumented college students, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it Saturday.

For Latino high school students, the main group Tapia’s fledgling foundation has reached so far, the need is great for financial help with college. Only 13 percent of U.S.-born Latino adults in California have a bachelor’s degree, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. For immigrant Latinos, the figure is 5 percent.


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