Maricella Loza has never strayed more than a couple of miles from her family, but last Monday morning she woke up a world away.
Maricella, 16, a South Gate High School junior, found out last month that she had been selected--with 65 other high school students from across the nation--to serve as a congressional page during the fall legislative term, which started Tuesday and runs through Jan. 28.
Last week,she gave up cheerleading practices and postponed her work as junior class president to travel to Washington, where she is now serving as a messenger and assistant to the nation’s lawmakers.
The pages were selected from thousands of applicants and 435 nominees. Maricella is the first student in her high school’s 53-year history to be awarded the prestigious position.
She spends three hours each day in class and seven or more hours each day as a page, and receives a stipend of about $1,049 a month. Maricella lives in a dormitory.
When she learned of her acceptance to the program, Maricella said she “couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. I broke out in tears. It doesn’t happen to just anybody. My mom broke out in tears with me.”
Lupe Andrade’s tears were out of pride, but also out of concern that her daughter was to venture so far from home.
Andrade said that although she did noy want to see her daughter leave, “I told her it’s an opportunity I’m not going to take away from her. I tell her I don’t want her to be like me, because I am a high school dropout and I work in a factory. I tell her she has to do it (succeed) for herself.”
So far, Maricella is doing just that, said Dave Callahan, South Gate High assistant principal. Her 3.8 grade-point average, responsible attitude and involvement in school activities made her the school’s top candidate for the program, he said.
“If you could choose a daughter, you’d choose Maricella,” he said. “She believes education is the key to success. . . . If everyone had those type of values, we would have no problems.”
South Gate community organizations and school faculty are raising funds to help Maricella pay for air fare and expenses such as winter clothing and her page uniform, Callahan said.
The community has raised $700 for one round-trip plane ticket, but organizers hope to raise up to $3,000 so that Maricella can return home for Christmas, Callahan said.
Without the community’s financial support, Maricella said ,she could not participate in the program.
“I’m going to thank them for the rest of my life,” she said.
Maricella admits she had little interest in a political career before being accepted as a page, but says her stay in Washington could change that.
“There’s a little thing inside of you that makes you want to know more and more and more,” she said. “I thought this was a chance to see what government is really like.”
Besides, she added, Latinos “really need people to stand up for us.”