For as long as Araceli Zavala can remember, a hunger for education burned like a fire in her belly.
It spurred her as a child, between field work and the cable lash.
It steered her into the laundry closet to study after midnight.
And it pushed her as a teen to leave home to stay in school.
Now at age 30 and a single mom – fatigued and overwhelmed – she clings to the fire’s embers, hoping one day soon to stoke them fully, to fan them into a glorious blaze before they can burn out.
Zavala recalls like yesterday her younger self at age 10, a girl in a classroom, lost and confused in a maelstrom of words.
It was 2001, and her parents had just brought her and her little brother from Mexico to Arcadia to work in the orange groves. Zavala didn’t know any English, and no one around her in school spoke Spanish.
Persistent and eager, she fought to stay atop math and other subjects with her classmates in fifth grade. But one area vexed her: reading.
To help, teachers let her sit in with third graders for that class.
“I had the ability,” she said. “I wanted to learn.”
Within three months, Zavala was reading aloud for the class in English – grasping the language at a wicked-fast pace. Soon she was getting straight As in all her classes.
Few at the school knew the price that she paid.