Jose's background includes the added challenge of having been an undocumented youth from Guatamala. Not only did this status limit his options for employment and obstruct him from obtaining such necessary documents as a driver's license, but prior to the Dream Act legislation, college and financial aid applications were made far more difficult. He was raised in Compton by his grandparents and entered the juvenile justice system without ever having had access to creative arts classes of any kind.
While at Camp David Gonzales, Jose learned to articulate his experiences in a theater program called Unusual Suspects, which was provided through C/HOPE's arts education programming. Jose describes the program by saying, "You write your script and share where you're coming from." Actors then perform the students' work. "It's cool to see that come alive."
After leaving camp, Jose won Unusual Suspects' Arts and Humanity Award (2007) and was asked to write an essay to compete for the opportunity to represent the organization. He won and now recounts the experience as having been transformational. "I was their poster boy." As part of the award, Jose went to Washington D.C. as an ambassador for Unusual Suspects. While in the nation's capital, Jose met First Lady Bush. "She spoke Spanish really well. I didn't expect that from her."
By then, Jose was working as an organizer with Community Coalition and discovered his talent for making political issues relevant to voters. Along with other ambassadors, representing nonprofit organizations all over the country, Jose also toured the city's museums and monuments. "All the stuff that I read there made me feel more educated. That's why I decided to go to college and become more highly educated. I also thought of becoming a social worker at some point, a counselor or mentor. I'm good at making people care about what's important to them."
After taking classes as a local community college, Jose transferred to a junior college in Northern California. He remembers the first year went well; he was living in the dorms. The second year, he moved to his own apartment, joined the football team, and finished his general education classes. The third year, he added track and field to his roster. But he became homesick. Just before he completed his Associate of Arts degree, Jose made the difficult decision of moving back to Los Angeles to be closer to his family. He enrolled in El Camino College but found the large class sizes there overwhelming, and financial aid was much more difficult to obtain. Jose was able to take one course and hopes to finish his Associate of Arts degree. Meanwhile, Fernando has assisted him in finding advocacy work as well as being naturalized as a U.S. citizen. Jose now works full time at Community Coalition as an outreach worker and maintains a regular presence at C/HOPE alumni events.