Oct 052008
Authors: Shayna Grajo

He is often found pacing the north end of Braiden Hall, chucking footballs on the campus intramural fields or sitting down to help a Latino high school student with homework through a CSU-based tutoring and mentoring program.

A convergence of eclectic passions, which boil down to helping and connecting with others, sophomore Wilfredo “Wil” Galarza makes his interests apparent.

Galarza leaves his dorm room door open to let his music tastes grace the hall.

“He takes requests,” said Tess Jackson, a freshman journalism and technical communication major who listens to the music he plays out his open door. “I’m lucky to have him as my RA.”

Jackson, a Chicago native, said she and freshman math major Ryan Othman, another hall resident and Chicago sports fan, both enjoy Galarza’s open-door broadcasts of Chicago Bears games.

But Galarza doesn’t always broadcast his status as a first-generation college student or a self-proclaimed “Mexorican,” the convergence of his Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage.

Galarza said he relied on a positive attitude to overcome obstacles in his upbringing so he could enter college and act on his drive to reach out to others.

With a history of advocating Latino empowerment, Galarza said he looks to continue his role as an ambassador of the Latino community while inspiring people from all walks of life.

The growing years

A surge of impressions throughout Galarza’s high school years led to his personal growth and preeminent motivation to attend college.

It began in Galarza’s freshman year of high school, 2004, when Galarza participated in his first of five years in national leadership programs sponsored by the National Hispanic Institute. The NHI is “designed to advance the educational aspirations of thousands of high school age Latino youth,” according to the organization’s Web site.

“I was a freshman, I was Hispanic, and I was being coached and mentored,” Galarza said during an interview in Braiden Hall. Sporting the number 54 in deference to Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, Galarza had arrived at the interview after playing a football game with friends at the campus intramural fields.

Having grown up in the South Side of Chicago, Galarza didn’t travel far to attend the NHI Young Leaders Conference in Chicago, an annual four-day debate conference offered at select cities to freshman high school students.

Galarza continued to speak on the influence of his debate team coaches.

“They were mentoring me, and I looked at them, and I thought, ‘They look just like me. They come from those places that I’ve come from,'” Galarza said.

“I thought, ‘They’re going to college.’ That’s what I needed. That’s what gave me the motivation to really do some good stuff.”

From that point forward, he said, he was motivated to become an equally esteemed resource to other developing Latinos. While participating in different NHI programs in consecutive years, Galarza became a coach in Chicago for freshmen students entering the debate competitions. He was able to travel across the country to attend the conferences without worrying about the expense because his mother worked at United Airlines.

It was also in 2004 that Galarza moved from one residence in the South Side to another. Following his parents’ separation, he and his mother and younger sister moved into his grandmother’s apartment.

Describing the apartment as “ghetto, nasty, grimy” and dilapidated in a “bad” and “terrible” neighborhood, he said these years reeked of hardships.

“We were struggling pretty hard. I remember a time when we didn’t have our gasoline on for the winter,” Galarza said. “There were times, too, when my mother would just start crying in the middle of the night. I’d have to go to her and hug her and say that everything would be okay. I had to be really strong, but I couldn’t look at my mom and not cry.”

His high school years were fraught with strife, he said.

“There was a time too when, my senior year, I was getting ready to go to college, and I come back one day to our crappy little apartment, and I see that we got broken into.”

A Playstation, some movies, a camera, a DVD player and other belongings were stolen.

“That was really hard. I remember that night just trying to stay cool and trying to stay positive. I tried to stay strong, and I remember going into the bathroom and looking into the mirror and being angry and sad at the same time, just crying.”

Galarza said he continues to struggle with telling others about his rough years.

College Life

On Galarza’s way out of high school, his academic success led him away from the inner-city turmoil and around the country to debate competitions. He earned a number of college scholarships, including one from NHI, that paved his way to CSU.

And with room and board paid for by his resident assistant position, Galarza has been able to cut his out-of-state expenses in half.

Galarza has assumed a double major in political science and international studies and a minor in Spanish.

While he doesn’t know what he’ll do when he graduates, Galarza said he hopes to focus on outreach causes involving diversity and youth education. He said his future projects include involvement with more student diversity support offices.

Galarza will continue to advocate on behalf of the Latino community. Guadalupe Salazar, the director of El Centro Student Services, recalled how Galarza sought out the office when he first arrived at CSU.

“He wanted to connect with other Latinos,” Salazar said. “He wanted to get involved. . I wanted Wil to work here because he just had this energy. He had this sense of belonging, and he wanted others to feel that they also belonged to the university.”

Salazar said Galarza’s involvement in NHI programs enhanced his abilities to help and empathize with issues affecting Latinos.

“I think he understands some of the issues affecting other Latinos not only in higher education, but in the political arena,” Salazar said. “He is a great asset to this office.”

News Editor Shayna Grajo can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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