As a first-generation Chicano on my father’s side and second on my mother’s side, I was raised between two cultures. My parents met in Mexico City and when they came over to the states, my father began his journey employed as a gardener while he and my mother lived with my grandmother. My parent’s split when I was 8 years old, largely due to my father’s alcoholism and my mother returned to college soon after where she received a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Irvine (UCI) and then a master’s degree from University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). I was too young to understand how important higher education was, rather I simply felt neglected as an only child when my mother holed herself in a room studying. As a budding teenager the relationship with my mother grew tumultuous and she told me that I could not live with her anymore, so I moved in with my father and grew to adulthood in his house. I built a successful career in music which made a formal education seem unnecessary but after years of substance abuse and chaos, at the age of 28 with multiple criminal charges, I was facing years in prison. With good representation I served only a fraction of that time in county jail but once released, I had to reexamine who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go. I was encouraged by my mother, girlfriend, and former marijuana dealer to go back to school. It was the best decision I could have ever made. I found great strength and purpose in expanding my knowledge on subjects that interested me and this foundation gave more legitimacy to my community service work.
“I was encouraged by my mother, girlfriend, and former marijuana dealer to go back to school. It was the best decision I could have ever made. I found great strength and purpose in expanding my knowledge on subjects that interested me and this foundation gave more legitimacy to my community service work.”
– Gabe Rosales
With my mother, a multiple UC alumna, I knew attending a UC was possible but for who I was, and where I had been, I was not sure if a UC was the best place for me. Many of my community college counselors encouraged a California State University, which seemed like more of a safe bet. After changing my major multiple times, I settled on criminology and after researching UC Irvine’s criminology department, I decided to set my sights on attending there. The department was nationally known, and the job transfer rates were high. My last semester at community college, my father died in Mexico and during my spring break, I returned to Mexico to cremate his body and bring back his ashes. The day of his funeral I received my acceptance letter from UC Irvine, and it meant everything to me. As an older student, who had traveled internationally, battled substance abuse, and been incarcerated, I felt like an island during my undergraduate studies at UCI which began in 2015. I had little in common with most of the student body. This did not affect my drive however I did not feel like I had shared values with many because of my life experiences. It was not until after I had graduated was I aware of student organizations of formerly incarcerated students and then worked with current students at UCI to get an Underground Scholars chapter established. I am about to return to UCI to begin a doctoral degree and I am ecstatic and eager. Opportunities are continuously presenting themselves from my colleagues and from the UC organizations with which I have built relationships. I can see change happening in real-time and for this I am eternally motivated and grateful.