I grew up on the east side of Bakersfield, California, where I attended Foothill High School. Growing up where I did, individuals are automatically labeled with a bad reputation. Attending a high school like Foothill didn’t really help in that regard. Attending Foothill meant you just hit the jackpot, where the labels placed on you become interwoven; not only are you an “east-sider,” but you’re an “east-sider” that attends a ghetto school. “East-siders” are typically known as your “cholas” and “cholos,” your welfare kings and queens—the low-income residents of the city. Foothill High school is known for its drop outs, gangsters and pregnant teens.
What individuals forget is that broad stereotypes don’t define us as individuals. I’ve been asked the same questions over and over again: “Is it scary to live on the East Side?” “Is foothill a safe school?” During my freshman year in 2005, Foothill went from an open campus to barricading the students in because they wanted to keep the students from walking off campus. What they didn’t know is that the bars that were placed to keep us in really didn’t do much at all. There were countless walk-outs despite the bars, from senior walk-outs—an annual, lighthearted tradition—to walk-outs that held more seriousness and weight: walk-outs that attempted to deal with immigration laws and unfair policies in our schools and community.
Although Foothill was not known for their sports, many of Foothill’s coaches were key in developing athletes who would later go on to play Division 1 sports in college, play in the NBA's developmental league and even some major sports leagues. Even though Foothill didn’t have all of the resources necessary to excel and compete at their respective level, we had coaches who believed in us and wouldn’t let us fail even when we wanted to. I was a junior in high school when my softball coach, Mr. Smith, saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He took a young student with aspiration and developed a future athlete. It was through athletics and coaches like Mr. Smith that I realized I was more than the stereotypes and labels I spent my whole life adhering to. I was more than just a low-income resident. I was an athlete, and could be anything else that I wanted to be.
Out of all the schools in Kern County, Foothill is the only school that has the IB Program (International Baccalaureate Program) This program has sent some of Foothill’s students to prestigious colleges, and it continues to serve the students at Foothill High today. It was through programs like IB and the athletics departments that students became more than just the stereotypes the world saw us as. Instead, “cholos” and “cholas” went on to attend colleges and four-year universities and became degree-holders and professionals.What many failed to realize is that we are educated. We are athletes. We are more. For many of us, we continued our studies in local community colleges, state universities and private universities—both in and outside of California. I may have established my roots in an area associated only with the bad, but just like with any situation you may find yourself in, I’ve found there is always bound to be some good. I am more than the labels forced upon me.