First male Mexican immigrant in Harvard program speaks at CSUSM

Cesar Cruz discusses life’s trials and tribulations on his journey out of the “hood”


Katlin Sweeney

Cesar Cruz discusses his speech on September 17

Shanice Davis, Features Editor


As a part of the “Conversations that Matter” series, a Mexican immigrant shared his journey to becoming the first male Mexican immigrant in his academic program at Harvard.

On Sept. 17, Cesar Cruz led a discussion in the USU Ballroom on the trials and tribulations he’d experienced throughout his life and how he went from the “hood” of South Central Los Angeles to academia.

Cruz received his Bachelor’s degree in History from UC Berkeley and is currently attending Harvard University’s Educational Leadership doctorate program.

Cruz said that he disliked school while growing up, but he became a teacher-turned-activist when he saw the the corruption that lives within our society during his first experience as a teacher.

“I didn’t mean to become an activist, but what was happening in our society was too unjust that something needed to happen,” said Cruz.

Cruz said that his road to success was no walk in the park.

“I have a lot of low self esteem issues, so for me to think that I was going to apply to Harvard and then be the first Mexican immigrant male accepted into the Doctorate of Educational Leadership Program, the school where Obama went, that’s loco. But I’m seven months away from getting my Doctorates,” said Cruz. “What I’m most proud of is that I come from a long generation of dysfunction and I didn’t know where that dysfunctionality came from, there was an abusive grandfather, an abusive father and I wanted to break that cycle.”

From there, Cruz introduced an analogy of backpacks; everyone has one and is carrying something in theirs, but no one chooses it. In his first “backpack”, he was carrying vocabulary that impacted his everyday life.

“The first word that I learned in English was ‘bastard’. I learned this word because at this time my father had already left. He left when I was two and I don’t remember him except for the gift he left me,” said Cruz.

The “gift” left by Cruz’s father was 38 stitches on his right hand .

“Very early on I knew that I was not loved by my father and that I was a bastard,” said Cruz.

The second word he learned was “migration.” Cruz became acquainted with this term at the age of 5 and a half years old when his mother told him about a beautiful place called “El Norte.” Cruz was told by his mother that she would go to El Norte and come back for him. Cruz’s mother went to El Norte and when he was 9 and a half years old, he was reunited with her.

Cruz’s second backpack was called “The Coping Backpack,” in which he was introduced to Elmer’s glue by self-medicating himself in order to cope with everyday stressors.

“Elmer’s glue helped me deal with a developed lower self esteem that began in school where I wasn’t getting A’s and B’s, I couldn’t keep up with the English language, I didn’t always dress the best,” said Cruz.

By the time Cruz reached high school he learned to love himself, developed a voice and was doing better with his schoolwork. Cruz then graduated and attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate.

Today, Cruz serves as the co-founder of Homies Empowerment, which is an independent youth organization for trauma-impacted youth and is currently in the process of creating The Phoenix Building.

Cruz appreciates the lessons he has learned and is proud of everything he has overcome.

“When I learned about California, Arizona, Nevada, when I learned this was Mexico; when I learned this is indigenous peoples land, I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. I’m no one’s illegal, I’m in my ancestral homeland,” said Cruz.