Alex Serrano grew up in two of Stockton's most dangerous neighborhoods, often falling asleep to the sounds of gunshots and sirens.
He was born in the Sierra Vista housing project and raised in south Stockton, where lives are routinely lost to gang violence and drugs. Even as a young boy, Serrano insisted he would make his community safer someday, and now he will have his chance.
The 23-year-old Franklin High School graduate fulfilled a lifelong dream Friday when he was sworn in as a Stockton police officer. Dressed sharply in a black suit with a gray and burgundy tie, Serrano raised his right hand and took an oath to protect and serve his hometown.
"It felt a little bit surreal," Serrano said after the swearing-in ceremony, which was held in the Community Room at police headquarters on East Market Street. "I felt like I was dreaming the entire time."
Serrano's parents, Mexican immigrants who toiled for years as farm workers in the fields of San Joaquin County, sat in the front row watching with pride. Raul and Laura Serrano were joined by their four other children: Maria, 26; Raul Jr., 25; Albert, 21; and Andrew, 12.
"I'm very proud," Laura Serrano said. "Alex always wanted to be a police officer, and he worked so hard at it."
María Serrano marveled at the young man her brother has become, saying he conquered his surroundings with focus and discipline.
"My siblings and I were all exposed to the dangers of falling into gangs, drugs and violence, but with the help of my parents and the values they instilled in us, we were able to overcome all that," said María Serrano, who graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with a degree in criminal justice and now studies law at Humphreys College in Stockton.
"I think Alex is going to make an exceptional role model for the youth and young men his age. I hope that someone from our community can see his story and just think, 'Hey, he made it, and where he lived didn't hold him back.'"