Hard Work and Perseverance Pay Off
Javier Acuña’s grandparents were Mexican farm laborers who settled in Texas.
His mother, Ana, saw how hard her parents worked. She knew she wanted a different life. After graduating from high school, Ana Acuña joined the U.S. Army, and that is what brought her to Alaska.
It was here that Javier Acuña’s parents met. Javier’s father was 19 and visiting the state and trying to learn English. Sergio Acuña longed to work hard “para salir adelante,” to get ahead in life. Learning English was the first step. Ana and Sergio both agree hard work and determination are key to having a good life.
This is how Javier Acuña described his parents and says it is what gives him reason “to go beyond what we think our limitations are.” His parents have always instilled in him the desire to work harder and smarter than others. He is a biology major at UAA. He is also working as an undergraduate researcher for UAA’s Biology Department.
Javier spends time learning about the caribou population in the Arctic. He talks excitedly about what he learns from his research, from their travel patterns to their diet.
“When I was a kid, me fascinaba la naturaleza! (I was fascinated by nature!) I would watch Animal Planet, NatGeo, Discovery,” he said. He admits he is in a field with not that many Latinos but feels comfortable doing what he loves “because at the end of the day, I want to be someone who helps pave the way for other Latinos,” he said.
His mother has always pushed him to put education first and his dad has demonstrated that when you have determination, nothing is impossible.
Javier talks proudly about his dad. He tells me Sergio became the vice president for the company where he started as a construction worker. “My dad worked his way up and became a union organizer, then a business agent and finally the first Latino to hold the position of vice president for that company,” he said.
There is no doubt Javier is proud of his Latinx roots. Eleven years ago, along with other Mexican youth, he became part of Agave Azul, Anchorage´s only mariachi band. He also serves as the president for the Latino Student Union at UAA, a student club with the mission of reviving and sharing the Latino culture at the university. “There is so much more to share than just food. We have music, art, traditions…” he said.
With about eight percent of UAA students identifying as Latinx, Javier hopes to grow the membership of the LSU club. And just like he found his niche in biology, he hopes to inspire the students at UAA realize the opportunities they have ahead of them and take time to focus.