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César Chávez conference coordinator: education key to career opportunities

Annual event aims to inspire Latino youth to pursue their educational dreams
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The 12th annual César Chávez Youth Leadership Conference takes place Saturday, March 24, at Cooley Middle School in Roseville and aims to inspire Latino youth.

"We hope students will leave the conference understanding that continuing their education beyond high school is the key to expanding career opportunities," said coordinator Rene Aguilera.  "We also want them to understand their dreams are well within their own reach."

The Press Tribune caught up with a former attendee and a workshop presenter to share their experiences at the conference.

'Worth attending'

Roxanne Ocampo attended the conference twice when her two oldest children were in elementary school, making the three-hour roundtrip journey from the Bay Area because "we felt it was worth attending," she said.

She and daughter, Gabriella Herrera, participated in a workshop on health science. The presenter had a real cadaver and the young female students were the only ones who had the stomach to watch as the doctor pulled back flaps of skin, Ocampo said. Her daughter said, "It's just the human body."

"I knew at that moment she'd go into a medical field," Ocampo said.

Herrera is now a freshman at Harvard University with plans to major in neurobiology and minor in ethnic studies.

Ocampo's eldest son is studying film at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her younger son, who's 9 years old, already knows he wants to go to Cornell University and study science.

Brain in the center

Several years ago, Herrera and her peers were instructed before the conference to make a poster to visually represent themselves. Herrera put a brain in the center of her poster. Her mother asked why? Herrera said she wants people to see that Latinos are smart.

"I believe the greatest benefit I received from attending the conference was a sense of pride in my culture and inspiration to be successful in school and beyond," Herrera said. "I remember watching the Aztec dances and seeing speeches by successful Chicanos in their respective fields." 

Her favorite part was the parade, when she yelled and chanted with fellow marchers. She credits her parents with instilling positive ideas and providing a supportive environment for their children - the conference supplemented those teachings.

Child-rearing principles

This year, Ocampo will lead a workshop called "10 Elements of the Quetzal Mama Principle," based on her book, "The Flight of Quetzal Mama," which will be published May 1. She will discuss Latino child-rearing principles, navigating the K-12 school system and the college admissions process. One principle: Be available for your children even when it's not convenient.

"Do everything in your power to ensure your children have opportunities for success," Ocampo said.

In researching her book, she found a strong sense of ethnic and cultural pride correlates with high academic achievement for Latinos. She encourages parents to take their kids to film screenings, performing arts events and workshops by Latinos to expose them to as much as possible.

"There's a misperception that Latino parents are not motivated and that's not my findings," Ocampo said. "They are incredibly motivated and devoted to help their children. They just don't know how to do that."

The Cesar Chavez Youth Leadership Council provides the tools, she said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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César Chávez Youth Leadership Conference

What: Arts, education, health and job fair with more than 40 vendors. UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi will serve as keynote speaker. Organized by Latino Leadership Council, Hispanic Empowerment Association of Roseville and Cooley Latino Club.

When: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24

Where: Cooley Middle School, 9300 Prairie Woods Way in Roseville

Cost: Free

Info: Targets 6th through 12th graders, but kids of all ages and parents are invited to attend. Register at www.hear2000.org or show up day of event.