On his first day of 10th grade at Hillcrest High School, a slim Hector Castellano Camejo stood on the school’s sidewalk alone as the son of parents new to the U.S. on political asylum.
Behind him were years of his family’s suffering under socialism in Venezuela and his own experience being bullied as a 210-pound Christian. In just three years, he would earn a 3.9 GPA, attend a summer law program at Stanford, study violin with a Dallas Symphony member and become his school’s orchestra concertmaster.
But first Hector had to learn English.
“It was one of the most terrifying things I had to face,” he says. “The lack of the English language not only took my voice, but it took my confidence.”
His first class at Hillcrest that day was math, a subject he loved. He understood the numbers and equations on the board, but when the teacher asked him if he could solve the problem, he had to say no. “That’s the only thing I could say,” Hector says. “I couldn’t communicate with him.”
In his first English class, he left behind the cultural norms of his homeland and extended his right hand to the teacher, thinking that shaking her hand was what was expected. Instead, the teacher hugged him. “I was so vulnerable that I almost cried,” he says. “I thought she was going to reject me.”
Hector says he had two options: stay behind and hate everything or give it his all. He started by joining the school soccer team and learning to play the violin. “People here were always four or five steps above me. If they were giving one, I had to give three. If they were giving two, I was giving five. I was trying to make myself get to their level.”
He says he wasn’t afraid to speak English after his sister reassured him that it was OK to not be perfect. “I told my friends to tell me if I was making mistakes and correct me.” Soon, Hector was making 90s and 100s in class. He no longer belonged in the school’s English as a Second Language program. After walking by the school’s Academy of Engineering class and loving what he saw from the hallway, he joined that division.
But school was difficult. “It was a challenge to write a whole paragraph when I wasn’t proficient to write a sentence,” he says. “I can’t deny that it was God. With the help of my teachers and God, I started doing it.”
Hector embraced community service as part of the Hillcrest’s Key Club, helping to set up a garden at Franklin Middle School. “It’s a beautiful thing to give something back to this nation.”
During his sophomore year, Hector made the all-regional orchestra. His violin is a loaner from the school. “I don’t have a violin of my own,” he says. On that day, he didn’t have the best audition. He came home devastated. His mom told him that sometimes, hard work is better than achieving a goal.
“But thank God, I got it!” he says, laughing. “I got the last spot.”
As a member of Dallas Symphony Young Strings, a program to increase the diversity of American symphonies, Hector studies under Sho-mei Pelletier, a Dallas Symphony violinist. “She is tiny, but her sound was telling me what was inside her,” he says. “I tried to transmit this same strong, confident sound.”
In addition, he represented the North Texas District Council for Fine Arts for the Assemblies of God at a national competition, participating in the Christian and Worship Band division, where he played guitar and sang.
Hector is now his school’s concertmaster. He also began a mentorship organization called Hillcrest Newcomers Union to help immigrant students new to the country. “I created this program so these kids won’t have to face all the obstacles that I had to face,” he says. “I wanted to show them that there’s still hope, even in a new country where you don’t know anything. If I can help one person change his or her life, everything will be worth it. I know how it feels to be lonely and scared.”
His family taught him that in the face of his homeland’s adversity, it’s important to be humble, work hard and be kind. “It was out of all this misery and corruption that my dream career came,” he says. “I want to change the government. I want to be a lawyer.”
Now 18, Hector would like to attend college. He needs a scholarship, and the process is difficult. He’s not a full resident. Neither is he illegal; he has a driver’s license and a social security card. But his family’s political asylum case is pending, and as far as he understands it, he must apply to college as an international resident. “The schools don’t know what to do about me,” he says.
Dallas Baptist University accepted him and offered him a Christian leadership scholarship that pays 25 percent of his tuition. He is considering attending Richland College for the first two years. He wants to be the first in his family to graduate from college.
“I have done it and so can many others after me,” he says. “I am proof that being an immigrant is not a limitation.”