By Edgar Lopez
“18 years ago, ELAC was not what it is today,” said Dennis Sanchez, the East Side Spirit and Pride club adviser and East Los Angeles College instructor.
The ESSP club hosted a dinner at Steven’s Steakhouse, last Thursday, where speakers told stories of living in East Los Angeles.
At the end of the ceremony, Sanchez addressed and thanked a long list of people who have helped not only the ESSP club but ELAC as a whole.
One of the persons addressed and thanked was President Ernest H. Moreno.
Moreno addressed the public with a story about his first day and how the former president of ELAC tried to sell him a stereo for $200.
Moreno said no to the deal and walked in the next day to find the stereo still there.
He asked his secretary why the former president had left his stereo behind.
That was not his stereo, his secretary said; it belongs to the district.
After the laugh, Moreno spoke of his struggles when growing up, but mostly, he spoke of raising ELAC.
On a trip to China, he said that, while on the street, he saw a young man with an ELAC shirt on.
He wondered how an ELAC shirt could have made its way to China, but he was glad that ELAC was branching out to the point that it had become known internationally.
There were many guest speakers at the ceremony, ranging from authors to teachers to former students and more.
The president of the ESSP club, Martin Chan, and Vice President, Trudi Hayashida, came on stage to give a brief outline of the event and of their club.
They said that although they go on university tours, they also do much more, such as their partnership with Homeboy Industries.
Patricia Godinez, an ESSP advisor and ELAC instructor, and Vic Lapiner, a USC and MLB pitcher, hosted the night as co-masters of ceremony.
Lapiner began the speeches by telling how he grew up in City Terrace.
Although there were always opportunities to join a gang and do drugs, he never did any of them, “because I love myself,” he said.
“I don’t mean that I look at myself in the mirror or anything, but I respected myself. Character and Education is what it’s all about,” Lapiner said.
Respecting yourself and others appeared to be the theme of the speeches, as well as perseverance.
After Godinez read a poem by Langston Hughes, titled “From Mother to Son,” Jaime Avina, a former ELAC and San Jose State University student, gave a heartfelt speech.
He told of his youth and how he continued his education despite the fact that his father would abandon him with abusive step-mothers and abuse Avina himself.
He said his dad once told him, while they were driving by SJSU, that the school is for intellectuals and that he would never be a part of it.
After struggling and starting off at the lowest levels of English and Math, Avina transferred to SJSU where he earned his degree.
After Avina, a representative from Homeboy Industries, Vance Webster, began to tell his story.
He said that at the age of 12, he had become the man of the house after his father was caught in a love affair.
After he was kicked out of the house, he went from being a straight A student to a gang member in South-Central, LA.
He said he served nearly 29 years in prison, despite the fact that he had been innocent, but could not talk in fear of his family getting hurt.
“I knew how it worked,” he said. “I used to be part of that.”
He said that every time his parole came up, he was denied, so he wrote to Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, to help him get out of jail.
On the eighth parole, he was released and Homeboy Industries hired him and he eventually climbed from the bottom to the top.
Chan said that although ESSP sends out students to help and tutor people at Homeboy Industries, students also learn from the “homies.”
The honorary guest speaker was Luis J. Rodriguez, a former Elan, a Chicano-literature author and journalist.
“Each of us has our own particular crossroads,” he said.
Although Rodriguez’s family moved to San Gabriel, he was active in East LA gangs.
Despite the fact that he was gang-involved, he always maintained a love for education.
Rodriguez attended ELAC for a semester or two, he joked.
He said that the one class he could take, because of his work schedule, was a journalism class taught by Mr. Tikagi.
Rodriguez was the only student who returned for the second week of the night class.
“Mr. Rodriguez, if you come back every week, I will be here,” Rodriguez said, imitating what Tikagi had told him.
He said that even though his time at ELAC was short-lived, he celebrates it because of the character he built.
After all the speakers finished, five awards were given out.
Chan, Hayashida, Teresa Barroso, Co-vice president of ESSP, and Adriee Ricoy, a former president of ESSP and the President of the Board of Directors, were awarded a president’s meredith plaque for each.
President Moreno was awarded a plaque for his service to ELAC as he plans to retire on August 30 in the fall semester.