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 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. More than $85,000 in scholarships and the car were raffled.
Salazar, 14, 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 Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino and others.
Yovino took a selfie with Salazar in front of the new, $22,000 Corolla. A fair official said the Salazar family will not need to pay taxes on the vehicle because an unnamed donor has paid it.
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, México 16 years ago.
“She’s a very dedicated girl. She doesn’t care what time she sleeps to do her homework; she 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.
A special opening day
According to fair officials, more than 600,000 fairgoers attend the fair each year during the 12 days the fair takes place.3
“We are so proud of our annual fair. It continues to be bigger and better each year,” said Fresno County Board of Supervisors vice chairman, Sal Quintero, adding that under the current leadership team, their efforts and their continue improvements, doesn’t go unnoticed.
He said the museum “is something so incredible for our community to preserve our history, to showcase stories, to provide future generations of Fresno County past.”
“It is truly a gift to the community this museum at the fair grounds,” Quintero said, adding that “fairs bring people together.”
Quintero said the fair is a celebration of the county’s past, present and future.
“The Fresno Fair means so much to a lot of us in the community,” said Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chávez, adding that as a kid he would listen to the radio commercials of the Fresno Fair that built the excitement.
Chávez said he was proud of the work the fair has done to give back to the community.
Mexican exhibit opens
Fresno businessman Manuel Prieto took Lydia Chávez on a tour of The Big Fresno Fair last year, with a special tour of the fair’s museum.
What Prieto wanted Chávez to witness was the lack of an exhibit that showed a fuller history of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the San Joaquín Valley.
“If I donate the money, will you build it?” Prieto asked Chávez, the former executive director of Arte Américas and now executive director of the Fresno Arts Council.
A year later and following a $30,000 donation by Prieto and his wife, Ramona, fairgoers will be able to get a glimpse of Latino contributions to the region, from the arts and music to labor to the law.
“I think this exhibit is going to demonstrate how large we are now, how we’ve grown,” said Prieto, who owns two auto dealerships and farms in the Kerman area. “We’re in many different facets of industry now.
“Not only do we still work in the fields, we have attorneys, we have doctors, we have architects, we have people with businesses,” he added. “We should be able to show everybody that we should strive for more than simply settling for a job in the fields. That’s not who we are anymore.”
The ‘Mexicanos and Mexican Americans: Interwoven into the Fabric of Fresno County’ exhibit covers six themes ranging from arts and culture to the contributions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans to the economy.