Eddie Valero, according to the thinking of his parents, was not suppose to return to this unincorporated community with a bad reputation for drugs and gangs.
After all, he was the “golden boy” who graduated a year early from Orosi High School (Class of 2000 valedictorian) and who studied at Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown, Rome and Washington, D.C.
But, close to completing his Ph.D. about how the design of schools influence the spaces where students hang out, Valero decided he was headed in the wrong direction.
“My intention wasn’t to come back,” said Valero last month, a day after he helped celebrate the opening of a new football stadium at his alma mater with video scoreboard and all-weather track.
He was on schedule to complete his doctorate and perhaps go into teaching at the college level.
So, two units short of finishing his dissertation, Valero felt “that tug at my heart to go back home.”
His parents were frustrated at first.
“Look at you, with an Ivy League education and coming back home,” they told him. Miguel and Blanca Valero – the Mexican-born parents of two other sons and owners of an Orosi restaurant – eventually endorsed his return home.
In two months, the 36-year-old Valero, who was born in Visalia, will be sworn in as the first Latino elected to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. (Lali Moheno was the first Latina on the board when she was appointed in 2003 by Gov. Gray Davis and lost an election bid the next year).
Not only did Valero get elected in a county that is being sued by the Dolores Huerta Foundation for having supervisorial districts that don’t favor Latinos who make up almost 65 percent of the population, but he won outright against two other candidates in June.
Valero, who steps down from the Cutler-Orosi Unified School District after six years (including the last two as president), believes his approach to battling low, Latino male youth educational achievement can translate into success for District 4.
“I’m here to really make sure we can uplift our community and continue to push forward for communities not only in need but for communities to work together,” said Valero.
He believes his work on the school board to pass a bond measure that included a high-tech science classroom at Orosi High, improvements at other schools and an upcoming sports complex to serve the region made it easier for him to upset Dinuba Vice Mayor Dr. Kuldip Thusu with 54.69 percent of the vote. Thusu trailed with 33.45 percent of the vote.
I’m here to really make sure we can uplift our community and continue to push forward for communities not only in need but for communities to work together.
Tulare County Supervisor-elect Eddie Valero
“When I knocked on doors,” said Valero, “people said, ‘Wow! You guys are doing something in Cutler-Orosi. Let me give you a shot. Let me give you an opportunity to see what you can do across the region.”
Valero accepts the challenge. He wants to focus on water (perhaps nudging communities to consolidate their operations, and improving access to clean water), making sure public safety personnel have the tools to do their jobs “professionally and efficiently;” and, keeping an eye on the county’s $1.2 billion budget.
Beyond those basic issues, Valero wants to institute a young supervisors program where students from the district’s three cities and 11 unincorporated areas “become a student voice.”
He also wants to launch an annual recognition of non-profit organizations and individuals. The event will rotate from one community to another each year, and feature a motivational speaker.
These are heady goals for Valero, who learned to steer toward a different path than an older brother who was constantly in trouble. There were big expectations of the “scholarship boy.”
“I look back and reflect, and I don’t really like the word ‘scholarship boy’ because it sets very high expectations for our youth, and it sets high expectations for people,” said Valero.
“Why? Because Orosi believed in me before I believed in myself. And, I was neglecting the very people who had pushed me to that success.”
When Valero returned to Orosi, he researched and found out that young Latino males were absent from educational achievements.
“Our young men were drastically falling behind, and they weren’t involved,” he said.
The majority of them didn’t have a father at home.
That’s when he started the Young Men’s Initiative, an award-winning non-profit organization designed to provide support and leadership experience for male high school students who do not have a positive male figure in their lives.
A home near the high school was purchased, and the front was converted into a cafe that serves students. There is a media room and meeting space for participants. So far, 65 males have gone through the program.
“For me, it’s making sure they’re living a better life than what their father would have given them,” said Valero, who plans to transition the home into a live-in, residential leadership academy for young males who are either in community college or a university.
Valero wants that kind of vision throughout the supervisorial district.
“Look to the examples of what we’re doing in Cutler-Orosi, where we’re no longer an eyesore,” said Valero. “We’re no longer seen as gang infested.
“We don’t have that dark cloud over us anymore because we have been working very hard in providing the resources to make sure our community is getting the very best.”