Courtesy photo / Graduation: PEMA recognized it’s first class of graduating students with colorful sarapes.

An independent parent group recently relaunched at Samohi is already having an immediate impact on the high school’s student body.

During Samohi’s Class of 2019 graduation, multicolored sarapes ⁠— a shawl worn over the shoulders⁠ — visibly popped amongst a sea of Samohi Vikings blue and gold.

The colorful shawls were representative of Padres, Estudiantes y Maestros Asociación (PEMA), an independent group within the district which seeks to empower Latino students with a family-like touch, provided to PEMA students at the first Latino PEMA graduation celebration held Friday, June 7 held at the Samohi Cafeteria.

“We did everything from scratch,” Rebecca Villegas, president of PEMA said. “I think it came out great. Next year, we hope it’s even bigger.”
The celebration saw students receive $2,100 in scholarships and give speeches to their friends and families, a packed event with an attendance of over 250.

“It was a full house,” SMMUSD board member Ralph Mechur said. Mechur, who opined at a September 2018 board meeting that he thought PEMA seemed dedicated to working with the community, was wowed by PEMAs immediate effect.

“It was great to be at an event celebrating the success of our students,” he said. “It was a wonderful way to honor their work, their culture and their bright futures. It’s important for us to recognize the backgrounds that all the students come from, to honor them and to make sure who they are is looked at as part of their personal strength.”

PEMA now has roughly 100 members and will grow to other districts including Culver City and Venice. However, their beginnings were far more humble.

“The first week or so, we only had two students,” Dr. Berenice Onofre, PEMA founder said. “We were afraid we wouldn’t even get to six. I think by word of mouth the kids got there.”

Word of mouth was aided by Dr. Mireles-Toumayan, a Spanish teacher at Samohi. Mireles-Toumayan was already a champion for Latino students in the school as an advisor for the Latinos Unidas club, spending time after class and after school aiding her students in their graduation plans.

In PEMA, she found a partner with similar goals.

“We wanted a voice for Latinos in the district,” Mireles-Toumayan said. “PEMA welcomed all, regardless of background. I told my students about them and the numbers grew fast. My club was excited to work with them and join them.”

One Samohi Class of 2019 graduate who benefitted from PEMA is Cristian Cruz.

Cruz is Cal State Northridge bound, currently undeclared but hoping to soon change assign health science as his major. A son of Latino immigrants, Cruz said he initially joined PEMA to stay close to his roots. He says PEMA helped him to improved himself, his grades and his life.

“They influenced me to strive for better things,” Cruz said. “They made sure I didn’t just go for the bare minimum, always asking me to ask more of myself.”

After celebrating with PEMA at their first graduation celebration, Samohi’s schoolwide celebration ensued. Cruz, along with other PEMA members wore their shawls with pride.

“For me, I wore it because I was proud of my culture,” Cruz said. “It was a matter of representing.”

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