Nelly Alcantar

Nelly Alcantar.jpg

Nelly Alcantar was the 2010 recipient of the Leadership For Young Women Through Sports internship. Nelly’s essay on why she wanted to take up the internship appears below. Nelly has since graduated UCSB and has recently finishing up a two-year term with the Peace Corps in Panama.

I was born and raised in a small agricultural town. My parents emigrated to California from Mexico. They went through many struggles in order to give my sister and me a chance to live in the USA. Like many other immigrants, I have experienced racism, inequality, submissiveness, and injustice.

My parents have always worked in the fields picking grapes, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and every other vegetable you see in the produce section. During these years, they were disrespected and treated more like animals than humans. Being immigrants, they were unfamiliar with their rights and were taken advantage of, such as not receiving their paychecks.

One of the saddest childhood memories I have is when my mother came home sobbing from her 12-hour workday in the fields. I remember the bandana she wore across her face, to protect her from the sun, was drenched in tears. I was only eight-years old and still very naïve about the cruelty of humans. As I listened from my bed, she told my dad that her supervisor had told them that he would not be able to give them their paycheck until next month. He had been telling them this lie for two months. 

All the workers began to rebel against the supervisor. Chants and screams began to rise in the air. All of a sudden, the supervisor took out his gun, pointed it at the screaming workers and stated that if they didn’t shut up and go home, he would call the “migra”, the immigration patrol. Scared of being deported, they all went home, humiliated and with no money in their hands.

I remember clearly that I began to cry when I heard my mom’s tone of voice and her tears running down her face. I felt so lost and useless. I couldn’t understand how humans could be so mean. Experiences such as these have really shaped me into the independent, athletic, bright woman I am now. Maybe you’ve heard of heartbreaking stories just like mine, but what makes me distinctive is what I’ve done to give my family, myself and my community a better life.

Giving back to the community is something I have always felt in my heart. As a senior in high school I was voted president of the Mexican-American Youth Association. We conducted canned food drives and gave out hundreds of food boxes to the surrounding families that lived in near-poverty conditions.

I began to work during the summers with the California Mini-Corps, whose focus is tutoring migrant students and helping them reach grade-level standards. It was an amazing experience.  I was given the task of working with a freshman student who had just arrived from Mexico, with no English skills. When he told me his story of having to jump the border in freezing temperatures and staying sealed up in the trunk of a car for hours at a time with minimal oxygen, I was amazed he was able to keep a smile on his face as we worked on his homework. I tutored him for six weeks during the summer of 2005. I had not seen him since then, until five months ago when I bumped into him at the store and found out he was now attending college. I held back tears as he said “thank you”.

Moments like these are what drive me to continue helping youth who struggle. Even when I studied abroad I continued to pursue my passion. During my time in Rome, Italy and Santiago, Chile I volunteered at local high schools as an English teacher. Here in our Santa Barbara community, I have organized events through the organization that I am co-president of, “La Escuelita of UCSB”.

Through La Escuelita we have hosted yearly free Thanksgiving Dinners, Safe Halloween Festivals, free after-school tutoring and Student-Parent Conferences. At Isla Vista Elementary I coached 5th and 6th graders in track and field. I am currently working at Isla Vista Elementary as a Bilingual/Bicultural T.A. in a 4th and 5th grade class. Last summer I worked at the YMCA summer camp. I was a camp counselor for “Challenge Camp”, which is for 5th and 6th graders. All of these opportunities to help youth have given me higher expectations for myself, including flying solo to other countries. 

My second passion in life is traveling. I decided to study abroad for a year because I wanted to take a risk and live life differently. While abroad in Rome, I traveled throughout Eastern Europe and all around Italy. Some of my favorite memories come from my solo weekend trips. I had a backpack, some money and nothing else; but that’s all I needed to experience the world. While studying in Santiago, Chile I traveled alone to Cuzco, Peru. I climbed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, and I plan on doing it again.  All of these life experiences have taught me to be an independent, giving, patient, and driven individual who’s always looking for a challenge to conquer. 

© Richard Payne 2018