Marino Angulo has come a long way. When he was six years old, his family emigrated to East Los Angeles from an area of central Mexico so isolated that he saw his first car on his journey to the border. In the U.S., his mother did seamstress work at home and took care of Marino, the oldest, and his nine siblings. His father held a series of jobs “even though he was drinking. But our home life was miserable. He was hitting my mother a lot. He was hitting us. He was frustrated.”

School was a safe place where teachers helped. He remembers the thrilling impact of hearing his fourth grade teacher say to his mother, “Marino is such a great kid and hard worker. He can do anything he wants.” Marino will never forget the day his father shot his mother with a gun. He heard the bang and ran to the back of the house, getting down on his knees and praying. His mother spent a few weeks in the hospital, recovered and refused to press charges. His father began to sell drugs from the house. The police came when only his mother was home, and she spent a year in jail.

Marino was a junior in high school that year, and he and one of his sisters supported and kept the family together.

Marino swept up a gas station parking lot and mowed lawns. His high school basketball coach hired Marino to wash cars and do other jobs and let him use his computer. His sister worked in a sweat shop. “We couldn’t let our siblings down,” he said. He went to school every day and had perfect attendance through high school. He didn’t even consider dropping out. “I’m the oldest one and a role model and I’ve got no choice.”

That same year his mother was in jail, Marino won the Beat the Odds award. “My counselor nominated me and it changed my life. When I met the other people at the banquet, they were important people, and they thought highly of me. They thought I accomplished something and I thought, ‘They’re smart. There must be some merit to their thoughts.’ When you come from a situation like mine, you doubt yourself. They believed in me and believing in myself was really what allowed me to go on to college.”

Marino graduated from Whittier College and for the past 16 years has taught social studies and history—and coached basketball—in his hometown high school. “When you ask, ‘How is it that a person like me can make it?’ it has a lot to do with teachers. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now. I felt it would be most rewarding to teach at a school with students who are like what I was. That’s where I felt the most need.” Marino remains a strong supporter of CDF and has served on the selection committee for Beat the Odds in California for many years.