Michelle Salazar doesn’t even have a driver’s permit.
Yet the Edison High School freshman walked away with the paperwork that grants her a 2017 Toyota Corolla from the Big Fresno Fair 4.0 And Above Program held at the Brian I. Tatarian Grandstand on opening day (Oct. 4) of the fair.
Nearly 2,000 Fresno County school kids from grades 8th through 12th and boasting 4.0-or-better grade point averages were entered to win scholarships worth up to $3,000 and laptops, but the desired grand prize was the shiny car and all it’s latest gadgets. Over $80,000 in scholarships and the car were raffled away.
The effort is in conjunction with Friends of the Big Fresno Fair, the Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU), iHeart Radio and Toyota. Over six years, six Toyota Corollas have been raffled off. Approximately $225,000 in scholarship money was given away. Last year’s winner was Isaac Blanco of Hoover High School (Fresno).
Salazar, just 14 years old, was elated to hear her name called out over the public address system at the grandstand. She blushed when the public address announcer told her not to start the car because she doesn’t have a driver’s license.
In the coming days, the Salazar family will receive a call from a Toyota representative to arrange a pick-up date and to reserve Michelle’s color of choice for her vehicle.
“I thought to myself, ‘It’s not going to be me.’ Out of so many students that reached 4.0 and above, it’s so amazing,” said Salazar, “I was shaking so much, I couldn’t even talk.”
Moments later Salazar walked onto a red carpet laid out over the track to the infield. She was then congratulated by numerous people, including Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino.
Yovino took a selfie with Salazar in front of the new Corolla, which is estimated at $22,000. According to a fair official, the Salazar family will not need to pay taxes on the vehicle because an unnamed donor has paid it.
As an incoming freshman to Edison, Salazar, who loves the subjects English and history, is already looking forward to college, which will make her the first in her family to achieve higher education.
“I’m still figuring out high school,” said Salazar, also a black belt in tae kwon do.
“My parents worked their butts off. They traveled to work everywhere. My dad works so hard, and my mom takes us to extra curricular activities so that we can have a better life.”
Nearby was Salazar’s mother Guadalupe Acosta de Salazar, who spoke little English, but understood what had just happened. Guadalupe was in tears and trying to hold steady her iPhone for photos.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was very emotional. I already had thought they weren’t going to say her name,” Guadalupe said in Spanish.
As her daughter said, Guadalupe sought a better life for her family after immigrating to the United States from Geuasave, Sinaloa 16 years ago.
“She’s a very dedicated girl. She doesn’t care what time she sleeps to do her homework; she’s dedicated to finishing her homework.”
Juvencio Salazar was unable to attend his daughter’s celebration because he was working at his job as a custodian at Sunnyside High School.
After her younger brother called their father, Michelle made a second call:
“No it’s a brand new 2017! Tell them you have to leave work to be with your daughter,” Michelle said into her phone.
According to Guadalupe, Juvencio arrived to the U.S. from Los Mochis, Sinaloa about 20 years ago. He married Guadalupe shortly after her arrival to the states. Guadalupe added that Juvencio has had numerous jobs, including farm working, prior to landing his custodial job at Sunnyside High. All three of the couple’s children, Michelle, Jonathan Salazar, 12, and Jordan, 4, were born in the U.S.
Neither of the parents went beyond high school.
“I dedicate my time to my children and my house,” said Guadalupe.
Michelle, who kept repeating she has homework to do later that evening, has only ever practiced driving in México, where the family has returned for holidays.