Fervent work ethic preserves dream


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Culinary arts major Marlene Echeveste Torres overcomes daily health disabilities and is an undocumented student who works toward exceling in the culinary field.

By Anthony Kinney, Associate Editor

In this thing called life, people are all dealt their own hands to play in hopes that their cards will lead them to finding personal prosperity and happiness.

Some were born dealt winning hands, while others spend their entire lives trying to figure out the best strategy to use playing their cards in this game of life.

Against all odds, Marlene Echeveste Torres is committed to winning in everything she does.

Born into impoverished conditions in Leon Guanajuato, Mexico, Torres said her family worked strenuously to stay afloat. When the news came that she was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome type II at the age of 5, her family was left devastated and in desperate need of options.

A genetic disorder, Usher Syndrome affects the hearing and sight senses of an individual from birth. Besides causing mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss, Usher Syndrome leaves its victims with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal degeneration that causes night blindness and constricted fields of vision.

As a last resort to finding help for their ailing child, her parents decided to come to the United States.

Sadly, they found out even with the advances in Western medicine, there is still no cure for this shattering syndrome.

Torres said all doctors could do is suggest she learn sign language and how to read braille.

She said she has adapted to her constricted tunnel vision and impaired hearing but still struggles with bumping into obstacles and with seeing at night.

She said her parents strive to be supportive and helpful through her process of adapting with Usher Syndrome, though they spend most of their time at work.

Growing up in Berkeley with no siblings and overworked parents, Torres felt alone and in need of help with her condition. She left for Mexico to live with her grandparents, aunt and uncle at age 14.

Back in Leon Guanajuato, Torres graduated from the local high school in 2007. She attended the University of Leon until her deteriorating vision drove her to drop out after her first semester.

“I thought I was going to go completely blind,” she said. “I wanted to go be with my parents again before I wasn’t able to see them anymore.”

Her vision stayed but became more constricted. However she decided stay in America and help her parents out in any way she could.

Once settled in, Torres decided to attend Contra Costa College with aspirations of joining the nursing assistant program. But those dreams grew dim when she realized she would have to register a Social Security number at a local hospital for certification.

She doesn’t have one.

Forced to pick another route, Torres decided to join the CCC’s culinary arts program last year.

Torres said since she graduated from a Mexican high school she’s not eligible for the California Dream Act, therefore she is working two jobs to help her parents out, as well as to pay her nonresident tuition of $280 per unit.

But she’s not letting her “undocumented” status or her disability hold her back from excelling in the program. Her resiliency helped her lead the team “Fanglish” to victory during this semester’s Iron Chef competition hosted by the culinary arts department.

Fellow classmate and culinary arts major Melanie Rubin said she recalls Torres’ introduction on their first day of instruction where she admitted to the class that she didn’t have much experience in the kitchen.

Rubin said she accounts Torres’ growth to her propensity to ask questions about things she doesn’t know.

Culinary arts major Enrique Espinoza, who worked alongside Torres during this semester’s Iron Chef competition, said she’s a hard worker who dedicates herself to accomplishing whatever task she’s faced with.

“Whenever need be, Torres is always willing to put the extra time and effort in,” Espinoza said.

He said Torres creates a welcoming environment where everyone’s opinion matters, which generates a more relaxed and friendlier atmosphere in the kitchen.

“She’s not afraid to voice her opinion and allow for the voices of others to be heard too,” he said. “She has the qualities needed to be a good leader.”

She aspires to earn an associate degree from the culinary program and to one day open a bakery.

Torres said she vows on making her parents proud by becoming the first in her family to graduate from college.

“Just like I believe in God, I believe in miracles,” she said. “When you set your mind on a goal and devote yourself to really going after it, then anything is possible.”