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Opportunity fuels JPII senior’s desire to help

John Paul II High School graduate Daniel Garcia hopes to use the educational opportunities he has been offered in the U.S. to benefit the people in his home country of Venezuela. (JENNA TETER/The Texas Catholic)

 

By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic

PLANO — As Daniel Garcia walked across the stage to receive his diploma at John Paul II High School, his heart and mind were 2,400 miles away in his home country of Venezuela.

“I know my country is deteriorating and here I am growing, so it feels like a disconnect where I am growing and my family is barely surviving,” said Garcia, who will attend the University of Texas McCombs School of Business in the fall. “When you tell your grandparents about all your success and their situation is the complete opposite, it’s kind of hard.”

Garcia and his older brother Diego were born in Caracas, Venezuela, the country’s capital city. His mother Carolina was a pediatrician and his father Diego, Sr. worked as a mechanical engineer. Neither of them had any intention of moving their family out of the country they loved.

“I was born in a beautiful country, a country where I could get everything that I wanted, especially my education,” Carolina Garcia said. “I could study, I could get a good job, I could afford a home — everything that you could afford here in the United States. Right now this family is not in a good situation.”

In 2000, Garcia’s father was transferred to Dallas for three years for work and the family got their first taste of life in the United States. When they returned to Venezuela, the tumultuous 15-year regime of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez had just begun.

In 2006, with crime, political and social instability on the rise, the family fled to El Salvador, then Panama for five years before returning to the United States in 2013. As he grew older, Garcia watched from afar as Venezuela plunged into economic chaos and social unrest. Garcia’s aunt and uncle decided to stay in Venezuela, along with their five children. Both sets of Garcia’s grandparents also remain in the country.

When he was 12, Garcia’s aunt and cousin were kidnapped but eventually returned safely after a ransom was paid. As recently as three months ago, his grandparents’ home was burglarized for the second time.

Despite facing heartbreak and new challenges of assimilating into yet another country, Garcia once again began the process of building another home-away-from-home — this time, at John Paul II High School in Plano.

His friends say Garcia gave little outward indication of the struggle his family was experiencing.

“He’s always been an ‘onwards and upwards’ kind of guy,” said A.J. Herrick, a classmate and one of Garcia’s closest friends. “He really did a good job putting on a great face every day.”

But Herrick recounted a moment when he and a few other friends were having lunch with Garcia during their senior year. Garcia told them he had a choice between attending the University of Southern California and the University of Texas, but chose UT in part because the tuition money he would save might one day be used to help his family in Venezuela.

“It kind of opened up all of our eyes,” Herrick said. “He is driven by his background and wants his success in America to help everything that’s going on in Venezuela.”
Garcia said he is grateful that his family is among the fortunate who have been able to flee the violence and prosper in the United States.

While Garcia and his family continue to send food and money to their relatives in Venezuela, that’s not enough for Garcia, who said he is motivated to eventually use his college education and future professional experience to return to Venezuela and help the country rebuild its economy.

“I know that because of my parents and their sacrifice, the opportunity that I have is incredible compared to those of kids my age in Venezuela,” Garcia said. “That gives me the drive to work harder and try to help back eventually in Venezuela.”