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Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Published on Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Bush Administration Official Has Come A Long Ways


SANDY SUMMERS/Yakima Herald-Republic
Daniel Garza talks to Toppenish High School students after a school assembly Monday afternoon. Garza, a former student at the high school, now works for the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C.

TOPPENISH — Daniel Garza calls himself "just a kid from the sticks."

A kid who worked in hop fields for as little as $40 a day, harvested asparagus, traveled from Mexico to California, Washington and Nebraska following the crops. A kid who missed so much school because of work, he had to drop out before his 1986 graduation and get a GED.

But, he told Toppenish High School students Monday, those experiences fueled his desire to pursue the American Dream.

"I didn't have the luxury to choose to go to school one day or work the next," he said.

But, he added, "in this country, where there's a will, there's a way. Best of all, there's hope."

Garza, a former Toppenish police officer and city councilman, is proud to say he is a Republican who works for President George W. Bush as the Department of the Interior's deputy director for external and intergovernmental affairs.

What exactly is that? one student asked.

"It's complicated," Garza replied.

Essentially, Garza works under Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Of 70,000 department employees, about 50 are "politicals" — in other words, Garza explained, generals who give orders. He works with state representatives and representatives of companies who want to work with the department, which is tasked with care of the nation's natural resources.

Still, the kids looked confused.

"I work for the executive branch loyal to the president of the United States," Garza said.

The gymnasium erupted in applause.

How much do you make? another student wanted to know.

He wavered. As a federal employee, he's listed as a G-15. Look it up, he told the kids.

A tough crowd, they egged him on until he acquiesced.

"I make $93,000 a year, which is a lot more than $40 a day," he said.

Toppenish students took time from fourth period to listen to Garza, who took time from a brief family vacation to talk to the students of his former high school.

Garza implored them to develop their character. Character, he said, is an "open broadcast" to others of who you are. It will "define your future" and "mark your place in this world." Character will help people see challenges along the way as opportunities for growth.

His trial was growing up on the road from farm to farm.

"What is yours?" he asked the students. "Dedicate your lives to strengthening and developing your character. It means everything."

Garza said his father had character. "Tell me what you give your attention to," his father used to say, "and I'll tell you who you are."

Garza, his brother and father once spent a winter working in hop fields, struggling to make ends meet on the slim salaries. The other workers asked Garza's father to ask the farm owner for a 5-cent-a day raise. He struggled with the decision, but finally took his son to the farmer's house to ask for the raise.

The farm workers got what they asked for, but the Garzas were fired.

Many times, Garza witnessed "society's cold indifference" in the treatment of his family, and this time, he wanted justice. But, he said, "my dad was wiser."

"You think you could break the spirit of a man by heaping so much indignation on (him)," Garza said. "He went about the next day trying to find work. Dad never wished ill will on anyone."

Getting a raise for 30 of his fellow workers was enough for his father, Garza said.

That kind of character, the adversity of his and the students' ancestors was endured "so we could succeed."

"I have all the confidence in your ability," he said.

Students called Garza's presentation inspirational.

"He worked in the fields. We work in the fields," said Julie Santiago, 15. "We know how hard it is. We know we need to be more in life than to just stay in the fields."

Eric Macias, 16, agreed Garza's comments were motivating.

"It doesn't matter where you come from," Macias said. "You can always be successful."

"It shows there's opportunity for everybody in the Valley," agreed Ismael Hernandez, 15.

Toppenish principal John Cerna taught English when Garza was in high school. Education, Cerna said, is about "making children excel." So seeing Garza succeed "makes me feel good," the principal said. Garza's speaking at the school is good for students, too, Cerna added.

"This is a great opportunity for see someone as a role model, not just as a Hispanic role model, but a role model," he said.

Copyright 2003 Yakima Herald Republic


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