Lost and found

Poor, brown, and inner-city. These Adamson High School kids weren't supposed to make it. They did anyway.

"My first day at Adamson," he said, "there was a shooting. We were in the gym for registration. The coach was taking roll. I saw all these guys go one way past the open door, and then I saw them all running back the other way. Then this other guy comes past the door, pulls out a revolver, and starts shooting at them. The coach just kept on taking roll."

Armando has always been a natural musician, but at Adamson he ran up against the legendary band teacher, Moises E. Molina, who died in 1994 of liver disease at age 46 and for whom Molina High School on Duncanville Road was named. Molina had transformed the Adamson band into a regionally famous stage band and an electrifying mariachi group, both of which have endured his death.

Molina didn't put up with natural musicians who wouldn't study and practice. Armando's troubles came to a head with one especially embarrassing performance. Molina told him that he would either shape up, practice, study, and attend all of the band's performances whether he was playing or not, or Molina would see that he was kicked out of Adamson and sent back to South Oak Cliff High School, from which he'd transferred.

I survived Adamson High School: from left, Armando Monsivais, Sonia Cabrales, and Manuel Herrera
Mark Graham
I survived Adamson High School: from left, Armando Monsivais, Sonia Cabrales, and Manuel Herrera
I survived Adamson High School: Sonia Cabrales
Mark Graham
I survived Adamson High School: Sonia Cabrales

The discipline he learned from Molina and the band carried him through two years at Mountain View Community College and eventually won him a raft of scholarships to SMU, where he completed his degree.

At SMU he encountered really rich kids for the first time. Like Sonia Cabrales, he remembers the experience as one in which he himself had to grow beyond the biases he had brought from North Oak Cliff.

"I remember standing in this coffee place in line, and there were these girls in there who had the whole Clueless prep kind of look. They were talking about how much fat there is in ham, and it was the movie, itself, Clueless. I had to really control myself to keep from laughing out loud."

Gerardo, who hadn't had much opportunity to speak yet, said that he plans to attend UT-Arlington and major in computer science. Armando said, "So somebody in the family will finally make some money."

Both brothers are musical and also good at math. I remarked that people who are gifted at one often seem to be good at the other. Armando launched into a witty discourse on how Pythagoras of Samos, the sixth-century B.C. Greek philosopher and mathematician, came to his theory of musical intervals by listening to the ringing of a blacksmith's hammer. While his brother held forth, Gerardo grinned and nodded, I suspect having heard this story before.

I asked Armando why he made it.

"There's a world you grow up in. Everywhere you live in South Dallas or Oak Cliff or the projects, you look around and you think, 'Why should I make it?' You grow up in this environment. It's this little world you live in. You have to break out of it.

"As a little kid, I dreamed of working with my dad when I grew up. When I was little we would go with him and help him clean up blood spills in the packing house where he worked. I thought I would go to college, you know, graduate, wear a tie, and then come work with him in my tie, cleaning up the blood spills.

"Right now, performance is my goal. I'd also like to get my master's at Yale. But for me, the biggest moment in my life was to graduate from Adamson, because no one in my family had ever finished high school."

Manuel

Manuel Herrera and I met at the Albertson's Starbucks on a Sunday morning. He is 21 years old and attends Northwood University in Cedar Hill. He is there on an Adamson Foundation scholarship as well as a track and cross-country scholarship from the university.

"I came to this country when I was 11. We lived in the town of Celaya in Guanajuato. I have been back once. I remember my town and my friends. They are good memories."

His mother brought him first to California, then to Oak Cliff.

"I was afraid when I started Adamson. There were stories I had heard. A lot of gang kids were there. They were mostly Hispanic but born in the United States."

I asked him why he didn't do the same things the gang kids did.

"I had my dream set," he said. "I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to study and become successful."

I asked him why. Why did he have a dream, and the others didn't?

He gazed around the bright new store for a moment. Herrera has been married for a year and a half. His beautiful young wife and their four-month-old baby had come with him to the Starbucks but were sitting a few tables away from us, perhaps because they didn't want to interrupt the business we were conducting. He looked at them before answering.

"In my town in Mexico, a lot of young kids go out from elementary school, they leave school, and they go out into the fields to work. In elementary school I always got good grades, and my mom knew I had some kind of a talent. I think that's why she came to the United States."

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