Friday, May 11, 2007

Rags to Rico

By Daryl Kelley
He never knew his dad, and his mom left him cold when he was 5 years old.
So he lived on the streets with urchins for the next 10 years in Guatemala City, the teeming capital of one of North America’s poorest nations.
Then those urchins began to die one by one in gang confrontations.
That was Melvin Rico’s world, as odd as it may seem, knowing him today as a straight-A student, accomplished athlete and founder of a Nordhoff High School club that shows young Latinos how to get into college.
“I had no choice but to leave,” said Melvin recently, his soft voice rising just a bit for emphasis. “If I’d stayed I would have died like my friends. What would you do in my situation? Would you leave your country for opportunity, or would you stay and die?”
No one sees that desperate side of Melvin these days at Nordhoff, where the penniless immigrant arrived four years ago, fresh from a six-month journey by foot, bus and guile across Mexico. He had just one year of formal education back then, because it cost to continue. So he taught himself to read and write. But he spoke no English. And once here, he had no permanent place to live.
Now, after four arduous years, as Melvin awaits graduation, students and teachers see a youth transformed, a confident 19-year-old who works 45 hours a week at three jobs, aces even Advanced Placement classes for college credit and finds time to care for his 5-year-old sister.
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