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