By Shorook Badawi
As founder of the Wish Upon an Angel Foundation, Professor of Chicano Studies Angelita Rovero-Herrera helps enrich the lives of those who are destined to lose their lives.
In 2011, Rovero-Herrera reunited with Kyle Rodas, a patient awaiting a bone marrow donor. The reunion was bittersweet because she understood that seeing him again meant that he likely needed saving again.
Rovero-Herrera had worked tirelessly to find Rodas a bone marrow match 10 years prior, but to no avail.
Fortunately,Rodas had nonetheless managed to win his battle against leukemia. The victory, however, came to a screeching halt when the cancer relapsed in his brain 10 years later. This time it was a war Rovero-Herrera would watch him lose.
“It’s physically draining watching these innocent children suffer. There’s no justification for why this happens to them,” Rovero-Herrera said.
Realizing there was no way to change his destiny, Rovero-Herrera set her focus on distracting Rodas from the tragic fate that awaited him— a fate he had already come to accept.
“In the end, Kyle chose to stop his treatment. He knew there was no hope,” Rovero-Herrera said. “I wanted to bring him some sense of happiness even though I couldn’t change his fate.”
Along with Rodas’ mother, Marty Valle, Rovero-Herrera reached out to the Make A Wish Foundation in hopes of convincing them to grant Rodas a second wish.
She was reminded that Rodas had already received a wish when he was diagnosed with Leukemia and informed of its policy that limits a child to one wish a lifetime.
Devastated for Rodas, Rovero-Herrera took it upon herself to make his dying wish come true and succeeded in her quest to help him find happiness in the face of death.
When Rodas died at the age of 15 in 2011, the Wish Upon An Angel Foundation came alive with his memory as its driving force.
For Rovero-Herrera, the Wish Upon An Angel Foundation operates under the understanding that sometimes one wish is just not enough, at least not when one is battling cancer a second time.
The foundation grants children a second wish but relies on other foundations, such as the Make A Wish Foundation, to grant the first. For this reason, Rovero-Herrera feels her foundation aims to supplement other foundations rather than retaliate against them.
“I want to work with the Make A Wish Foundation. It’s hard though, because when it came to Kyle, I had all the contact information and all the work was done. All I needed them to do was fax something and they refused. I get it. They have a lot of kids, but they also have a lot of money,”she said.
When the desire to help people and save lives comes as naturally to her as breathing, it can be difficult for Rovero-Herrera to comprehend other people’s unwillingness to do the same.
As a volunteer for the National Bone Marrow Program, Rovero-Herrera tried for years to save the life of two year-old Mario Molina before he passed away at the age of five in 1999. She attributes his death to the people who had the chance to save him but chose to let him die.
“There were two perfect matches for Mario. They signed up on the Be the Match Registry of the National Bone Marrow Program, yet neither of them was willing to donate,” Rovero-Herrera said. “These are behavioral instincts that should be instilled in all of us, and they’re not. So who is at fault?”
Rovero-Herrera believes this is a problem within certain cultures and communities, rather than a problem with humanity as a whole.
“Years ago, there were two women who needed donors. One was Caucasian and the other Hispanic. The Caucasian found a match, but the other didn’t because we’re short in Hispanic donors. That tells us Caucasians are willing to help each other, but Mexicans are not. I mean, they help family, but not strangers,” she said.
Although she feels that the Hispanic community could greatly benefit from uniting as a whole against disease and illness, Rovero-Herrera takes great pride in her Mexican culture. As a Chicano Studies professor at East Los Angeles College, she hopes to instill that same pride in her students.
“When you know where you come from, it gives you a better foundation. It grounds you,” Rovero-Herrera said.
Her former student and close friend Lucy Baladez credits Rovero-Herrera for opening her mind and heart to what it really means to be Mexican.
Baladez said “I used to use the term ‘Chicana’ very loosely. I used it to define myself without knowing what it really meant. I used it without pride. That all changed when I met Angelita.
“She made me feel like I am part of this big and beautiful culture and she made me feel so proud of my roots. She reminded me that we can try as hard as we can to be American, but society will not see us as such. At the end of the day we are still Chicano and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and we need to embrace it,” Baladez said.
Her ability to reach and impact students such as Baladez has convinced Rovero-Herrera that East Los Angeles College is where she is meant to be.
“I’ve taught at Pierce College, Valley College and many more. There’s nothing like ELAC,” Rovero-Herrera said,“The students actually want to learn. The community is willing to help. A former dean at Pierce College said it best. She said ‘ELAC walks on water, and the students do, too.’”
Though she is currently a part-time professor, Rovero-Herrera hopes to obtain a full-time position at ELAC.
“I’m from East Los Angeles. This is where my heart is,” Rovero-Herrera says.