OVERCOMING ADVERSITY IS ROUTINE FOR BRAULIO CASTILLO
For generations, countless thousands of migrant farm workers have toiled in the vast expanses of onion and melon fields spread across Southern California’s Imperial Valley. Theirs is a line of work that is both dangerous and demanding, where 14-hour days in conditions ranging from searing heat to bone-chilling cold are the rule, rather than the exception.
Braulio Castillo ’89 still recalls the days when his father, Marcelo, a migrant worker from the Ilocos Norte region of the Philippines, would leave the family’s Imperial, Calif., home long before first light and return just in time to see his children off to bed in the evening.
“I was nurtured in an environment of hard work,” he recalls. “My father was working dawn to dusk for very little pay. I never saw him very much, but that was just the way things were growing up. You had to accept it.”
Castillo’s father passed away when he was just seven years old, leaving his mother Josefina with the daunting task of providing for herself and her six children, a situation exacerbated by the fact that, as an immigrant from Sinaloa, Mexico, she spoke only Spanish. Despite the obstacles in her way, the matriarch of the Castillo clan taught herself English by reading magazines and watching television, while working three jobs in order to make ends meet. Castillo stills marvels at her resolve in the face of such a monumental challenge.
“Watching my mother working so hard just to provide basic needs for our family …” His voice trails off, then returns. “That work ethic is very transferable. And it also made it easy for me to realize that I wanted to work hard to put myself in a position where I would have more opportunities, both for myself, and my family.”
Growing up, Castillo was never one to shy away from putting in long hours; teachers and coaches marveled at his combination of work ethic and natural talent. Those proclivities would lead to star student-athlete status at Imperial High School, and subsequently earned him a congressional nomination to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Despite excelling in academics and athletics during his tenure in the Army’s preparatory program, Castillo longed to be closer to home, and felt he needed to find a college “that had a strong commitment to academics, was geographically desirable and offered me the chance to be able to play football. USD fit the bill perfectly on all three fronts.”
While Castillo didn’t fit the mold of what he perceived to be the prototypical USD student — “you don’t see too many kids from Imperial High School going there” — he found the Torero experience to be everything he could’ve hoped for.
“I was a peer of students who came from a very different background, and at first I felt a little out of place. However, it became readily apparent to me early on that USD was the kind of school where you were rewarded by engaging yourself academically, and to me, that really leveled the playing field.”
In the 21 years since earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration, Castillo has experienced a wealth of professional and personal success that has led him far afield from his roots in the Imperial Valley. However, he understands firsthand just how difficult it can be for a minority student to achieve their dreams, and is working to establish a scholarship at USD for future students.
“Establishing a minority scholarship is something I feel is very important and I’m very excited to be a part of,” Castillo says. “USD is a place where dreams come true. The life lessons you learn while there are integral to your development as a student and as a person.”
When asked who or what helped inspire him, the answer comes as no surprise. “My mom was such a major influence in my life; she taught me the importance of being open, accepting and compassionate. Growing up, ours was the house that was open; we may not have had a lot, but we shared what we had with others.”
They still do. — Mike Sauer