When Isidro Zuniga Vazquez walked into Los Altos High School his freshman year, he was surprised to see so many faces that looked like his. Having previously attended white-dominated schools, the number of Latino students struck him. However, he quickly realized the representation on campus was not reflected among the student leadership community.
Now a graduate headed for USC in the fall, Zuniga Vazquez leaves behind a legacy of activism and inclusion.
To address the Latino community’s lack of representation on the Associated Student Body, in his sophomore year, he joined the student government and leadership organization, which promotes the interests of classmates on matters from dances to rallies and club funding.
“When I joined ASB, I was struck because that class wasn’t representative of our student demographics – 33% of the student population are Latinos,” Zuniga Vazquez said. “But when you go into ASB, which is supposed to represent our student body, there were only three Latinos in a class of 35.”
As his senior year came to an end, the three Latino representatives grew to eight.
Many students of color on campus, including Zuniga Vazquez, were not aware of high school traditions like the homecoming dance, a symptom of the lack of equity in ASB. It was not until Zuniga Vazquez joined ASB leadership that he began to understand the importance and history behind homecoming week.
“There wasn’t anyone pushing that to us, to first-generation college students,” said Zuniga Vazquez, whose parents immigrated from Mexico. “There wasn’t anyone encouraging us to go out to these events and just become familiar with them.”
During his first year in leadership, Zuniga Vazquez organized a homecoming T-shirt drive to encourage students of color and fellow Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students to learn about the homecoming tradition and to experience it for themselves.
Every year before the homecoming dance, ASB hosts a spirit week on campus to show school pride. On one of the days, students are encouraged to wear their homecoming T-shirts, and with support from teachers and faculty, Zuniga Vazquez provided each freshman AVID student a homecoming T-shirt.
Since launching the initiative, Zuniga Vazquez said he has seen more AVID students and students of color at the homecoming dance and at the parade through downtown Los Altos.
Bound for college
In his academics, Zuniga Vazquez always focused on achieving his end goal: college. In AVID, he learned about the challenges and advantages of taking Advanced Placement courses and pushed himself to pursue them, despite the increased workload.
Jonathan Kwan, Zuniga Vazquez’s AVID adviser for his four years of high school, said he admires the hardworking student’s persistence.
“We talk a lot in AVID about stereotypes,” Kwan said. “They digest these stereotypes and messages from society, and as a result they tend to shy away and become the wallflower in the classroom. … But he never let that stop him.”
Zuniga Vazquez said part of the reason he continued to take AP classes, despite oftentimes being the only student of color in the classroom, was to break the stereotype and show that students of color were capable of succeeding in challenging courses.
His impact at Los Altos High stems from his quiet leadership, like taking on an increased workload of AP classes and leadership activities. Kwan recalled Zuniga Vazquez approaching the bus line freshman year for a school field trip to Intel Corp. as part of the AVID program. Students were encouraged to dress “business casual.”
“I just remember Isidro rolling up to the bus line just dressed to the nines. He was better dressed than I was. That was indicative of how he looked at something seemingly small and took it seriously,” Kwan said. “I think he was wearing a bow tie and he just owned it, like, ‘This is who I am. I want to be professional.’ He was dressing for his future.”
Zuniga Vazquez made his mark at Los Altos High, with Latino participation more than doubling during his time on ASB.
“I never really imagined how far it would go or how much of an impact it would have,” he said of his push for inclusion. “Just knowing its impact is something that is really meaningful for me because I know I am leaving Los Altos a better place than when I joined, which is really fulfilling.”