By Courtney Westlake
Ricardo Montoya Picazo is no stranger to hard work and commitment - characteristics that have taken him far in life after his family moved from Mexico to the United States. Now Montoya Picazo, a senior at UIS, is using those characteristics of determination and leadership to carry him through college and onto a political career that will be shaped by his background and experience.
After moving from Mexico, Montoya Picazo’s family first lived in California and then in Iowa for a year before settling in Beardstown, where his uncle lived. He transferred to UIS in his junior year after attending Lincoln Land Community College.
Montoya Picazo was motivated to come to UIS by a professor who told him what a great political science program UIS offered and about the many opportunities available because of UIS’s location in the state capital. Montoya Picazo first became interested in political science after he was involved in a political rally at age 15.
“As I grew older, I learned more about public and social issues, and I liked it more,” he said. “I wanted to work with the public and get involved in social change. There needs to be more Hispanics in the public field.”
Latinos and Latinas make up one of the biggest minorities in the United States.
“Sometimes issues in the political field are biased if you see them from a Hispanic perspective,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t see how a law would affect our customs, and they’re not familiar with how we think.”
Montoya Picazo has always had an interest in serving the public and his community. For several years, he has been a mentor and teacher for Project Next Generation, which encourages and enables children in the Beardstown community to pursue and complete degrees in higher education.
“We want to make the parents aware that their kids can seek higher education; they don’t have to just graduate high school and go into the labor force,” he said. “Many of my kids in junior high and high school think that way.”
The Project also helps children learn about technology and computers, Montoya Picazo said.
“There is a program based on teaching digital and computer technology and software, and we want to make kids aware of technology and take them out of the streets,” he said. “Today’s kids like to burn music, create videos and create their own projects. We also take yearly trips to major cities. It is interesting.”
Being a Latino in politics will not only open doors for other Latinos in the country but also encourage them to become involved, Montoya Picazo believes.
“If somebody is Hispanic, other Hispanics tend to want to participate in events,” he said. “Changes in Beardstown have improved; they are a much more accepting town, and the town is really trying to involve Hispanics in the school and community.”
Montoya Picazo sees himself in public office in the long-term future and would like to work for governmental agencies before running, such as the department of immigration or homeland security.
When Montoya Picazo came to the United States at age nine, he assumed it was a Spanish-speaking country because his father still spoke Spanish to them over the phone while they were in Mexico. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an ESL (English as a second language) program at his school, and he “felt lost” at the culture shock, he said.
“I didn’t want to go to school; I wanted to stay home,” he said.
In 5th grade, however, an ESL program was implemented, and he began to learn reading and writing. In 7th grade, he made the choice to not be a part of ESL anymore.
“There was no way for me to learn it well,” he said. “They offered to have me come back if I had trouble, but I didn’t. It forced me to speak English, and that’s why I’m better at English now.”
Montoya Picazo said while he still embraces his native culture, he is grateful for the opportunities in the United States, especially being able to pursue higher education.
“I love my culture, but I have grown into American culture too; I like American food and music,” he said. “And I know if I was over there still, I wouldn’t be at UIS. I would have only gotten through grade school. So I owe that to my father; I’m thankful to him.”