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Valley grown, Harvard bound

EARLIMART -- Fraternal twins Octavio and Omar Viramontes, who were born with a rare speech disorder, perplexed their parents and doctors in México.

"They didn't know how to talk. We took them to many doctors in México and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with them," said their father, José Viramontes, a farmworker in Earlimart.

One thing they did know how to do was cause trouble.

"Both of them would point at things and run off. If one wanted to run, the other would run with him. If one wanted to eat, the other one would eat too. They were troublemakers even though they couldn't communicate with one another," said the father.

Today, Octavio and Omar remain competitive, and both are making news for other reasons.

Octavio recently received a full scholarship to Harvard, the country's most prestigious university. That was on top of 20 other scholarships, including the prestigious Gates Millennium, Dell Scholars and Coca Cola.

Aside from the Harvard scholarship, Omar received the same scholarships last year. Omar, who graduated in three years from Delano High School, is ending his first year at UC San Diego where he is majoring in engineering.

Octavio also received a $100,000 Proton Scholarship for students going into science.

That brotherly competition -- along with José's insistence that they too learn first-hand about the struggles of a farmworker -- has driven them to academic excellence.

"Me and my brother were really competitive and I admit that he was always a little better than me in everything, both in sports and academics," said Octavio. "He inspired me to become someone great. As he pushed himself, I pushed myself to be the same way or better."

Their mother, María, who completed some college in México, can attest to the brother's competitiveness.

"If Omar played a sport, so did Octavio. If Omar joined a club, so did Octavio. If Omar got an award, Octavio tried to get that same award," said María.

José recalls the day Omar walked into the house with his report card.

"He had straight A's. Octavio came in right behind him, and I asked to see his grades and he responded, 'Why? You already saw Omar's. What do mine matter?'

"I always knew that when that happened, it was because Octavio had received a B on his report card," said José, who arrived in California in the early 1960s from his native Zacatecas, México "recently married, without money and without papers."

José has always insisted that his four sons -- the oldest, José Daniel, 25, spoke no English his first two years in the U.S. but went on to college and is now pursuing a master's degree at California State University, Bakersfield -- focus on education.

He also made sure they didn't forget the rough life of a farmworker.

One year, he woke them up before dawn on a cold December morning to prune vines.

"It was one of the coldest Decembers in the Valley, and when they saw the ice and experienced the cold, they asked me, 'Dad, do you do this every day?

"When I said yes, they were shocked to experience first-hand how difficult it was for me to earn a living," said José.

He has also taken them to pick grapes during the hot summer months.

Octavio still helps the family by selling fresh, sweet corn door-to-door in Earlimart. He has also donated more than 1,000 hours tutoring students and volunteering in local political campaigns.

The scholarships are allowing Octavio and Omar to make that change.

"We work in the fields. There's no way we could pay $58,000 a year for Octavio's education," said José, referring to the annual tuition at Harvard.

The father once thought of selling the family home in Zacatecas to pay for his sons' college education. Now, there is no need.

So, what will Octavio major in at Harvard?

"I think I will also major in bio medical engineering like my brother," he said.

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