On September 19, 1985 a powerful earthquake awakened the people of Mexico City. Thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands became homeless. In the midst of overwhelming heartbreak, the Mexican people fought back and began to rebuild. The images of tragedy, courage and hope touched the people of the Bay Area. This is also their story. This is a story of a gift to neighbors in need. This is the story of Abrazos and Books.
The journey of Abrazos and Books begins with one of the worst tragedies in the history of this hemisphere, a major earthquake in Mexico City. It struck at a time traditionally set aside in Mexico for celebration. For the people of Mexico City the month of September brings mixed emotions. For generations this has been the month when Mexico’s independence is celebrated. September now however brings another reminder for the people of Mexico, a painful reminder.
On September 19, 1985 a powerful earthquake awakened the people of Mexico City. Thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands became homeless. In the midst of overwhelming heartbreak, the Mexican people fought back. After the rubble was out of the way there was a challenge to rebuild. For the children of Mexico also there was a challenge. Their classrooms were gone but the desire to learn was not. Under very trying conditions they endured and they persevered. Rigo Chacons’s day-to-day live coverage of the Mexico tragedy on San Francisco’s ABC 7, touched the hearts of the quake-prone Bay Area. His heartfelt stories elicited an emotional response and prompted a fund drive. The Bay Area generosity helped rebuild thousands of homes and two elementary schools in the outskirts of Mexico City. The schools became the birthplace of Abrazos and Books.
The day the classrooms opened in these schools Chacon arrived to cover the event. The dedication of the new classrooms brought together the entire community. For the children of this part of Mexico City, new classrooms were more than enough reason for celebration. In the new settings they demonstrated heartfelt gratitude. A visit to the classrooms brought expressions of gratitude from the faculty and the students. On behalf of those people whose donations made all this possible Rigo Chacon was asked to speak, an opportunity for Chacon to share a message of generosity from the place he calls home. Though it was difficult to leave the place, “we said our goodbyes as the official program was over, or so we thought. We were so wrong,” Rigo Chacon says. At that moment a beautiful young lady Brenda Lizbeth Perez Romero asked to be allowed to speak. On behalf of her fellow students, faculty and their Principal, Brenda expressed gratitude for rebuilding their schools. She thanked Chacon and colleagues for helping them continue their studies. That incredible scene was just the beginning for Brenda who was grateful to be able to continue her education but also resulted in the creation of Abrazos and Books. The tearful expression of Brenda told Rigo Chacon that much more needed to be done. He certainly knew that he should do more than just report the tragedy but was uncertain about what to do. By the fifth anniversary of the Mexico City earthquake Rigo knew what he would do. He would change lives by education. With the help of his wife Lucy Chacon and Channel 7, he set out to help new high school graduates of Santa Clara County achieve goals which were unimaginable otherwise. On September 19, 1990, Rigo Chacon started a non-profit charity and called it Abrazos and Book. Abrazos and Books is a scholarship program. “Abrazos is a Spanish word for hugs or embraces,” Chacon says. “Because we reach out to young people from all ethnic backgrounds, it seems appropriate to use the word embrace in our name.” Abrazos and Books has a three-fold mission:
• Financially assist university-bound high school students in Santa Clara County
• Contribute to young victims of poverty, disability or major catastrophe
• Select students on merit and need, not ethnic origin
“ I know some think Abrazos and Books is for Latinos only, but it is not,”
Chacon says, “Abrazos and Books is an American scholarship. It is a scholarship for all Santa Clara County scholars.” The scholarships of Abrazos and Books are named in honor of people who sacrifice to help others.
“The Abrazos scholarships are incidental,” Chacon says, “because we show them that we believe in them.” Chacon keeps track of the success stories of Abrazos and Books, attends graduations and calls the graduates back as role models. Since Abrazos and Books started its scholarship program nineteen years ago, it has changed the lives of hundreds of young scholars in Santa Clara County as well as in Mexico. Some of the winners have gone to universities such as Harvard and Stanford, and now have successful careers.
Abrazos and Books celebrated its twentieth Scholarship Award ceremony on August 7, 2010. On this evening Abrazos and Books honored the 2010 scholarship recipients and salute the men and women who have made a difference in the lives of others. The names of all recipients are forever linked to the names of people who have also crossed our paths. Behind these names are the faces of courage, compassion, vision, committment.
Together, they form an endlessness of inspiration. Abrazos and Books is proud to name scholarships in their honor.