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Early Obstacles Give Poli Sci Major An Appreciation For Giving Back

Aug. 12, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Linda Gilchriest

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Oscar Aguilar on campus
Facing a bloody civil war in his native El Salvador, Oscar Aguilar and his family came to America illegally when Oscar was just a boy. Speaking no English, Aguilar applied his family's values of having a strong work ethic and being goal-oriented and eventually graduated high school, bought a business, got married and bought a new home. This fall, he prepares to mark one more check off his list—college graduation. —Photo by Brian Blalock


Oscar Aguilar is proof that slow and steady can win the race.

The 26-year-old political science major from Katy had to put his college education on hold for more than five years, but he is back at it and expects to graduate in December.

Aguilar was anything but idle between his stint at Lone Star College-Cypress and his return to school at Sam Houston State University. He started his own business, bought a home, purchased a new car and got married.

"I ran out of money (to go to college),” Aguilar said. “It is nobody’s fault. I had a job and they offered me a promotion. I said, ‘OK, I will do this for a little while and save money.’"

While he was working, he still tried to take a college class each semester, but when a family friend offered to sell his janitorial services business to Aguilar, he felt he needed to take advantage of what he saw as a big business venture.

He didn’t have enough money to buy it outright, but his parents came up with the difference and they were in business.

His risk paid off, and he now has 20 employees.

“I remember when we first started this, we were only making a few hundred bucks, but word got out. People want quality,” Aguilar said. “We can sit with a client all day and talk with them, but if they are not getting what we told them we would give them, they are not happy and eventually they are going to go away.”

This work ethic and desire to push toward a goal were instilled in Aguilar by his parents at an early age.

Aguilar is the oldest of five children who emigrated illegally from El Salvador when he was 11.

His parents had come to the U.S. earlier, during El Salvador’s bloody civil war, and Aguilar and his siblings stayed behind with their grandmother and other relatives until his parents had earned enough to send for them.

He lost relatives in that war.

“All I remember is the shootings,” Aguilar said. “We would find bodies on the street in the neighborhoods. Mostly, they (the government) would just go dump them near the landfills. It was just horrible.”

He was named after one of his mother’s cousins who was brutalized and killed by guerilla fighters. After Aguilar’s father was apprehended by the military for the third time, he decided it was time to leave, instead of fighting.

“He said, ‘If I stay here, I am going to end up like a lot of my relatives.’ So he moved here (to Houston),” Aguilar said. “He just one day took off. But he never gave up. He said, ‘If you have a goal, you have to stick to it.’ All the things he ever did were for the benefit of us. He wanted us to have a better life.”

When the children arrived, the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the west side of Houston. His mother worked three jobs and his father worked two.

Aguilar entered public school without a word of English in his vocabulary.

“It was really difficult at first because everything was in English. The only thing I was good at was math, and that’s what I excelled in,” he said. “They gave me prizes and recognition for what I did, and that was nice.”

Aguilar at Democratic Convention
Being an immigrant gave Aguilar a strong desire to give back to his community in America. He has chosen to do so by becoming politically engaged, learning to navigate the system and getting involved. This summer, he completed a fellowship with the Texas Democratic Party, with which he attended the Texas Democratic Convention (above) and met lieutenant governor candidate Letecia Van de Putte (below). —Submitted photos
Aguilar and Van de Putte

Math was just numbers, which is why he says he did well. Teachers told him that he was bright; his problem was he wasn’t skilled in English.

The first sentences he learned were: “I’m hungry.” “Where is the bathroom?” “I don’t know.”
“It took me about three years before I felt comfortable that I knew what they were talking about,” Aguilar said. “My grades reflected that. I started getting higher grades. I think I really got the hang of it around the 10th or 11th grade.”

He doesn’t recall neighborhood children, or adults for that matter, talking about their pasts or how they got to America.

“Maybe they are embarrassed about how they came here. Maybe they are afraid that they are going to be judged if they talk about it, or maybe they would be picked on; they just want to protect their families,” he said.

“My thing is you shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed about where you’re from. That is your background; that is what makes you who you are. You should put it out there—‘This is where we started and this is how far we have come. We’re setting an example that if you stay true to your goals and if you don’t give up, you will get better in life and will get all the stuff that is out there.’”

His parents set an example for him about knowing who you are and setting high goals.

“A man asked my mother how she got here (to the U.S.). I didn’t think she would say this, but she looked at him and said, ‘The same way that a lot of other people did. We jumped the border,’” Aguilar said. “That hit me like cold water in the face. I had never heard anyone acknowledge it (their illegal immigration status) to somebody outside of our community.

“My thinking it that yes, we did break the law, but not to do harm to anybody,” Aguilar said. “A lot of people, if their country was in better shape and they had the opportunities they have here…they probably wouldn’t come here. But they know that if you live in places like El Salvador and you are poor, you will die poor.

“There are some people who come out here for bad reasons, but we shouldn’t let those people speak for everybody else. The vast majority just want a chance,” Aguilar said.

After getting his business up and running well, Aguilar was able to go back to school fulltime.
He chose SHSU because of the “small community.” He also liked that SHSU has the legal studies minor and the school is affordable.

“I wanted to interact with professors directly. They are the ones that have all the knowledge,” he said.

Now a member of the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College, Aguilar commutes from Katy daily and runs his business in the afternoons and evenings.

This past summer, he completed a fellowship with the Texas Democratic Party, working in Fort Bend County to help organize prospective campaigns.

The fellowship was a great experience, and he received several offers to remain with the party through the fall, but in order to graduate in December, he had to turn down those offers. He does plan to continue assisting the campaigns of Sylvia Cedillo, who is running for county judge of Waller County, and Tawana Cadien, who is running for the congressional 10th district, which “was once represented by LBJ,” he said.

“In general, the fellowship was rewarding, because in just a few weeks, I learned how to be a field organizer. The expectations were high, and, at the same time, it allowed me to work and interact with the constituency, community leaders, candidates and elected officials at the local and state level,” Aguilar said. “I mean, it does feel nice to pick up the phone to call the mayor and know that he will answer your call and actually know who you are.

"I feel that the fellowship enhanced my learning experience as political science student and this is in line with my goal of being able to help my community."

After graduating, he hopes to attend graduate school. From there, perhaps law school.

If he is able to get his law degree, he said he would like to work with non-profit organizations, helping the immigrant community, because he knows how difficult the system can be.

“I don’t want to instigate people, just explain their rights and help them navigate the system because it is very difficult; it’s very complex,” he said. “People don’t want to be taken care of; they just want to be given a chance. That’s why they come from where they are—to do better.”



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