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Robert Lopez — Cultivated in Alisal

The family of Robert López arrived in Alisal from Blythe, California, trying to escape manual labor in the heat. His parents had been working in the cultivation of watermelon and cotton when his dad was offered employment in Salinas, and the entire family moved with other family members to an apartment on Laurel Street. Thus, he began his journey in the Alisal Union Elementary School District at Sanborn Elementary, now Jesse G. Sánchez. 

“Once we found an apartment on Alamo I started going to VRB,” Mr. López said. “That’s when I got to know a lot of the folks I know today. Behind those apartments I used to be able to walk down to the creek when (the building) was pretty much brand new. There were no houses on Ranchero Drive.”

Some of the teachers he remembers were from the time he attended Virginia Rocca Barton, such as  Mr. Blanco, Mrs. McGee and the Centeno’s, a family of teachers who were firm and connected well with students.

“I was the oldest of my brother and sister. Most of my childhood, my parents would go to work and I would take care of them and make sure the house was clean, los trastes limpios, la casa mopeada y aspirada and I have something cooking for when my parents came in. I learned how to cook an egg when I was in second grade. I would not change those learning moments for anything.”

There were no parks on this side of town, but Mr. López and his friends would use the fields behind schools and the empty lot behind the local library as their baseball and soccer fields. After promoting from sixth grade at Alisal Elementary, he attended El Sausal and Alisal High, and then he moved to San Bernardino for college.

“I thought I wanted to be a movie director — I saw “Pulp Fiction” with some of our friends in high school and I thought, that’s what I want to do. Then I took a class in marketing and that changed my world.” 

Mr. López attended Hartnell College, then transferred to Sacramento State University where he finished his bachelor’s degree in business. He had worked in retail and real estate for a number of years, while attending Sac State, but in Visalia he was recruited for a job in education, helping school districts recover resources to be able to help students with special needs. That’s how he co-founded, a consulting firm that offers diverse engagement programs and opportunities for school districts to recover funding or save dollars through various best practices.

The first time Mr. López attended an event of the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, CALSA, he saw many familiar faces — like-minded leaders — and felt right at home. 

“I found out what they were trying to do, and that moved me. I wanted to help get more Latino superintendents, or folks who have corazón and are non-Latinos.” Mr. López works with CALSA to help grow its membership and its mentoring program to support Latino administrators. 

“I want to continue connecting people who think alike. Students love relationships too, and Saturday academies provide good opportunities to develop relationships with students. For me, all is about relationships. When you put people who think the same together in the same room, we just sit back and magic happens on its own.” 

Mr. López is grateful to have been raised in the Alisal, attended its schools and having met the people who are now his colleagues and friends.

“What I remember most is the adults (who) guided us, whether it was the migrant counselor or Mr. Blanco at VRB,” he said. “For me, there was a lot of freedom on that side of town and we walked everywhere. You learn a lot, it was up to us to decide what paths we chose growing up.”