Machado enjoying the fruits of many labors | AspenTimes.com

Machado enjoying the fruits of many labors

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen High School’s senior class president, Tomas Machado, juggles a packed schedule with ease.

On Wednesday, for example, he dashed from a quick lunch with friends to a committee meeting with his two senior class sponsors. Afterward it was on to study hall, where he sought help with a lengthy essay for his college application.

After-school activities demand even more of Machado’s time. His part-time job is a top priority, as are his commitments to at least three school clubs. Then, of course, there are his presidential duties ? Machado recently helped select a speaker for May’s graduation ceremony, as well as plan his senior prom.

“It’s not really hard,” Machado shrugged. “It’s fun.”

It’s a schedule that would exhaust your average high school senior, but not Machado. Of course, he has overcome a lot more than a busy schedule in his short 19 years.

Machado’s mother died when he was 11, leaving behind three sons. He doesn’t mention a father when talking about his family. The youngest boy, barely a month old, and the middle boy were adopted by different families; Machado was sent to live with an aunt.

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That situation didn’t last long as Machado and his aunt didn’t get along, so the boy was shuffled yet again. This time, he was sent to live on a small ranch to work for a family he barely knew.

“I used to work from one o’clock in the morning to twelve in the afternoon,” Machado said. “We used to wake up in the morning to take care of the cows. We’d have to walk the cows to the [pasture] and then cut the grass to make more food for them. And we used to grow crops like corn and rice and beans.”

He worked at the ranch for three years, with no free time to continue his education. Family friends eventually offered him a room in their home to help him enroll at a local school.

“After that, I met this lady [who] knew my family. She told me she had a daughter and son in the U.S.A.,” he said. “The lady told me they were going to help me to come here ? if I behaved, and if I was a nice kid. I had a big dream, to come to the U.S.A. ? what it was like, life in this place ? I had this dream ever since I was a small child.”

Machado was 16 when he approached the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador and petitioned for a work visa. Soon after, he moved into his benefactors’ home in El Jebel.

During his first year in the valley, Machado wasn’t able to attend a local school. Instead, he got a full-time job to help his housemates pay the bills and support his grandmother back home.

Machado has washed dishes, waited tables, cleaned rooms at the Hotel Jerome, managed a local movie theater and helped customers at Banana Republic in his short three years in the valley.

However, his finances weren’t his only concern.

“When I first came here, I didn’t speak any English. I was a completely lost person. I didn’t know anything about life in the U.S.A.”

So in 2000, he turned to Aspen High, the school closest to his current job. He started out in English as a Second Language classes, but soon branched out to the mainstream curriculum.

“My first year at school, it was hard, because I didn’t understand anything,” Machado said. He would often read in class to avoid being called on, because “It was easier than talking.”

Three years later, it’s almost impossible to tell as Machado is meticulous with his grammar. He credits a number of helpful teachers, from ESL to social studies classrooms, as well as the time he spends with friends and extracurricular activities.

For example, Machado helped found the AHS Outreach Club to encourage his peers to try community service projects. The group makes holiday baskets, participates in a local Adopt-A-Grandparent program and, in January 2001, organized an El Salvador awareness day to benefit the victims of a devastating earthquake in Machado’s homeland.

Machado has also become involved in the school’s film and drama clubs, a hobby he’s enjoyed since attending school in El Salvador.

“I used to do drama in my country ? I used to direct my own dramas, write my own plays.”

Machado gets along with just about everyone. He can’t seem to carry on a conversation without being interrupted ? students will call out a greeting or pat him on the shoulder while passing him at school or on the street.

But Machado did have trouble fitting in when he first came to Aspen High.

“A lot of Latino people who came to this country just want to work, make money and leave. Some of these people really criticized me.

“They want me to make my money and go back to my country and make a new life.”

One Latino acquaintance used to harass Machado for the time he “wasted” in class, failing to save enough money while “going to school like a rich guy.” Machado said he’s often chastised for not saving enough money.

“I tell them that it’s hard to make money and be working and be in high school at the same time,” he said. “It’s not like you’re going to be making $1,000 a month working and going to school. And I don’t want to work 40 hours a week, because I don’t want to break my brain.

“I’m not going to be working like a slave day and night. That’s not the life that I want.”

Afternoons with both drama and film clubs have Machado thinking about a career in acting. He has his eyes on a prestigious drama program in Los Angeles ? housed at a school that graduated the likes of Julia Roberts and Al Pacino ? but the hefty tuition poses a problem. Machado said he’ll probably apply to Mesa State, a school that will allow him to work full-time and save tuition money.

But for now, Machado said, he’ll try to relax ? if he can, considering his commitments ?and enjoy his last few months as a high school senior.

“It feels like I accomplished something here. I’m getting my diploma, I’m making new friends, and it makes me feel proud of myself.”

[Editor’s note:] Faces of the Roaring Fork is a new feature of The Aspen Times that will appear each Thursday. The goal of these stories is to put the spotlight on people in the Roaring Fork Valley who don’t usually make the pages of our daily newspapers.

Stories will focus on “regular folks” who have interesting stories to tell. We hope they will run the gamut: people with unique hobbies, people who have overcome some obstacle in life to pursue a dream, people who quietly help others in need, etc.

And that is why we are turning to our readers. Though we have plenty of stories in mind, we are sure there are many, many people out there worth writing about who will never cross our radar screen. So we are asking our readers to tell us about folks they know who deserve a little recognition, who have interesting tales to tell.

Anyone with ideas should call Editor Mike Hagan at 925-3414, or send e-mails to hagan@aspentimes.com. Thanks, in advance, for your help.