Augustin Rocha remembers how powerful it was when a Hispanic business owner visited with him and fellow students while he was a young student in Seattle.
The man owned a few clothing stores in the city. Rocha, a senior studying education at Washington State University Tri-Cities, said the visit made him realize the importance of his own education.
"Just seeing that he was educated, he was successful, he had the American Dream," Rocha said.
Hispanic community leaders hoped for the same influence on youth from the Friday visit of Washington Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez. Gonzalez participated in a question-and-answer session at Collegium Caf in east Pasco as he aims for re-election in August.
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The justice and community members discussed a number of issues facing the Hispanic community, but Gonzalez emphasized the need for youth to receive a good education but also have community support from parents to mentors.
"You have to become a vibrant part of the democracy," he said.
Gonzalez was appointed to the state's highest court in January by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Previously, he was a trial judge, and also served as an assistant U.S. Attorney and had a private practice.
The justice offered several stories for reasons why education always has been important for him, even after he finished his formal schooling. He talked about how he learned that his father, a Mexican immigrant, didn't know how to read or write.
"When I studied abroad, I wondered why he wasn't answering my letters," Gonzalez said. His father eventually learned to read and write, overcoming what later was discovered to be dyslexia.
Community members spoke about various issues they want to see addressed in education. Pasco resident and volunteer Dora Morfin said she wants to see schools institute a program that tracks bad behavior and intervenes to help those students succeed.
"A lot of the time, what happens is a kid has a problem but no one really knows the background," she said.
Others said there needs to be more accountability for students and their families. Rebecca Francik, a librarian at Rowena Chess Elementary School and Pasco city councilwoman, said schools make an effort to connect with Hispanic families, but those efforts aren't always reciprocated. Likewise, one man said students need to know there are consequences for not getting an education.
"He'd like to see a government program where youth who don't want to learn should be forced into labor," he said, with Morfin translating.
Gonzalez, however, said the most important thing is for students to have someone to look up to and whom they can identify with. Regardless that the Hispanic population is growing, that growth doesn't mean anything unless people register to vote, seek public office and work to improve their communities.
Trino Chavez, a 17-year-old Chiawana High School senior, said he didn't know much about Gonzalez prior to Friday's event, but he was impressed by what the justice said and what he's accomplished.
"I feel like if he made it, I can make it," he said.