Shelby County native inspires MHS ESL students to dream big

Victor Cuicahua, right, answers questions from MHS ESL students after giving a speech on Wednesday, Nov. 12 where he discussed how successful you can be if you put your mind to it. (Reporter Photo/Graham Brooks)

Victor Cuicahua, right, answers questions from MHS ESL students after giving a speech on Wednesday, Nov. 12 where he discussed how successful you can be if you put your mind to it. (Reporter Photo/Graham Brooks)

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

MONTEVALLO–The English as a Second Language students at Montevallo High School were greeted with a special guest speaker on Wednesday, Nov. 12 and received critical advice for their upcoming career or college plans.

Victor Cuicahua, who serves as the Hispanic Outreach Intern for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and student at the University of Alabama, addressed the 20 or so ESL students with a presentation that included his biography, struggles he’s encountered and tips for life after high school.

Cuicahua has become a recognized face and voice during the rallies, forums and marches protesting Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56.  He gained national prominence when he appeared on the cover of “Time” magazine in June 2012 with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas in conjunction with a cover story about undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“In coming here what I wanted to do is to be able to show them an example of what you can do if you put your mind to it,” said Cuicahua. “When you are a student such as an African-American or Hispanic, oftentimes the biggest doubts are within yourself, so being able to show the kids, ‘Hey I started in the same spot you did.’ I graduated with an abysmal GPA, I was undocumented and didn’t have any papers and didn’t have any future. Being able to show them I went from an unknown kid in Shelby County to the cover of ‘Time’ magazine for the work that I did to fight for the Hispanic community and being able to show them that although it took me a little longer, I still ended up at a University and I’m still on the path to being a history teacher.”

Cuicahua’s ultimate goal once graduating from college is to become a history teacher and it is one of his passions.

“When people think of history they think of names, dates, pictures but that’s not what history is at all,” said Cuicahua. “History is a collection of narratives from different perspectives and world views and being able to teach history to encompass as many of those voices as I can would be something I never had in high school.”

Cuicahua also stayed after his presentation to answer a variety of questions from curious students that ranged from ACT and testing tips to life in college.