By Joe Dargan
The neatly kept and cozy offices of the Associated Student Union are a far cry from Oscar Cruz’s humble beginnings.
While looking down the barrel of a handgun in 2015, Cruz, 21, had to make a decision.
Does he give up the borrowed laptop he’s been using to continue his education online, while working four jobs to support his family, or does he risk his life to hold on to the only source of hope that he has?
If anyone knows Cruz well, they know the only thing that could’ve stopped him from walking away with his laptop and his future firmly intact was a bullet.
“When Oscar is determined about something, he won’t let it go,” said Cruz’s friend Destiny Hernandez.
Cruz, a human development major with an emphasis on educational policy and leadership, was fortunate to fight off the robber that night, and it was in that moment that he knew he had to approach his education with laser focus.
There was no other choice.
A child of Mexican immigrants brought to the United States younger than he can remember, Cruz is not just the ASU president, but is also a DACA recipient.
“It was a low blow for the president to take the program away. There’s a lot of students on campus here at ELAC that benefit from the program, including myself,” said Cruz.
Brought to the United States as a toddler by his mom Elena Rodriguez and his dad Oscar Cruz senior, Cruz and his family settled with relatives on a farm in McFarland, California, 25 miles north of Bakersfield.
It didn’t take long before Cruz started doing agricultural work.
Some of his earliest childhood memories were of waking up early to feed chickens and other animals, fetching water, helping to prepare meals with his parents and anything else asked of him.
As the oldest of two siblings, any additional responsibilities not being handled by his parents, would be passed down to him.
Cruz maintained his work ethic, working odd jobs, while continuing to excel in the United States educational system.
Not only was Cruz voted student body president of Estebon Torrez High School, he was also accepted into California State University, Los Angeles.
Things all changed for Cruz his senior year of high school when his dad was deported back to Mexico.
This was devastating for Cruz and his family, as he had now become the head of his household.
“My dad went from being a farmhand and warehouse worker, to a certified drug-addiction counselor who contributed to this society while being undocumented. He not only taught me how to be a man, but how to be a gentleman as well,” said Cruz.
Tasked with helping make ends meet for himself, his mom and now three siblings, Cruz took on four jobs.
From 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. on weekdays, Cruz split time between school, a warehouse job and a job at an after-school program where he worked with elementary school kids.
His weekends were spent working mornings at a swap meet and evenings at a taco stand.
Though Cruz was able to graduate high school and begin classes at Cal State LA, his work schedule and household responsibilities forced him to reluctantly drop out, taking a year-long hiatus from school.
With no car, Cruz had to find temporary places to sleep near work to make sure he’d arrive on time the next day.
It’s stories like these that led Cruz into politics.
He wanted to be a voice for young, undocumented immigrants who were also forced to be the head of their household.
Though he played the drums as a teenager and was even a part of dance team in high school, Cruz has always had an affinity for education and the importance of it.
“I’ve learned that if you want to make change you should go into educational policy,” said Cruz.
He plans to follow in the footsteps of former United States Secretary of Education John King, by attending Harvard University and eventually becoming the U.S.Secretary of Education himself.
Cruz was fortunate enough to meet King early in his ASU presidency.
None of this may even be possible if it weren’t for his good friend Carlos Aquino.
Aquino had noticed Cruz’s living and working situation and had encouraged him to take a few online classes at East Los Angeles College, offering to share his laptop with Cruz to help facilitate the process.
Little did Cruz know, an online class he had registered for was being taught by ELAC Vice President Julie Benavides.
Two weeks into a five-week course, with a 67 percent average and barely having escaped an attempted robbery, Cruz decided to call Benavides for help.
“She was so understanding of my situation that she allowed me to redo all of my assignments,” Cruz said.
“ I ended up finishing that course with a 102 percent average and was immediately offered a job at the school and sponsored with a laptop of my own.”
After a year of hard work, maintaining a perfect GPA of 4.0, Cruz noticed some issues around campus.
He felt he could help improve the cafeteria food quality and prices, and better marketing and promotion of helpful campus resources such as child care and health care.
Relying on his high school campaign experience and some advice from political science professor Filipe Agredano, Cruz ran for the ASU presidency and won.
Since taking office on July 1, life has been very different.
Even though his ASU duties, TV appearances and meetings with local politicians, like California State Senator Kevin de Leon, has made Cruz a very busy man.
He still finds the time to listen to his fellow students.
“He’s very approachable. If there are any students that want to give him any suggestions or discuss any issues, he’s very open to ideas and will do everything he can to help,” said Hernandez.”
Among Cruz’s biggest supporters are his mom and dad.
His mother is constantly showing him off to everyone she knows.
And his father, who lives in Morelos, Mexico, who Cruz has been supporting financially since the recent 7.1 earthquake destroyed his work place.
With some of the issues faced in the United States like racism, poverty, natural disasters and the subsequent response by President Donald Trump, Cruz understands that American politicians have a tough job to do.
“I don’t dislike Trump as a person, but I’m not in agreement with a lot of his rhetoric. As a student, I firmly believe in facts and research, and some of the decisions Trump has made have not been very scholarly” Cruz said.
Though he’s not pursuing a career in hopes of one day becoming the president of the United States, if the opportunity came his way, Cruz said he would definitely accept the challenge.