WESTMINSTER, Calif. — "Don’t judge a book by its cover" is a saying many people preach but not many people actually follow.
Tamara Bernal-Castaneda, a senior at La Quinta High School in Westminster, kept the contents of her life closed because she felt different from other kids.
“When it comes down to me being at school and someone trying to show love and care, it really hits home,” said Bernal-Castaneda.
She says she and her brother were raised by a single mom who works all day, every day. It always made her sad when she returned to school on Mondays and a teacher would ask her class about their weekend.
“When you’re poor, you’re limited to what you can do and what you can’t,” said Bernal-Castaneda.
She says growing up, she felt like she wasn’t loved, so she acted out and got into big trouble when she was in the 7th grade. That’s when she met La Quinta High School's assistant principal Loan Sriruksa.
“During the discipline committee, there was just something about her. I just get that gut feeling that this kid is special,” said Sriruksa, an educator for 22 years. She says she also grew up poor.
“As a student, there were many, many teachers and within Garden Grove Unified who really shaped who I am and helped me discover what my passion is,” said Sriruksa.
The Garden Grove Unified School District created a campaign this school year called Choose Wellness in an effort to curb hate and promote empathy on its campuses.
Sriruksa created a project called Humans of LQ which is inspired by a famous photoblog called Humans of New York where portraits and interviews are collected of people on the streets of NYC.
“For the students to get profiled, I want them to have a voice and to really have an opportunity to let people know who they are, not just what people see, but who they are at the core,” said Sriruksa.
She took photos of each of the students she profiled and recorded them as they shared their story with her. Bernal-Castaneda’s story gained attention on the school’s social media pages.
“I had friends and classmates who kept sending it to me through my personal social media. They told me they were proud of me,” said Bernal-Castaneda.
Sriruksa and Bernal-Castaneda have been a part of each other’s lives for the past five years. It wasn’t easy for Bernal-Castaneda to change her life and open up, but she let Sriruksa in one chapter at a time.
Their relationship has inspired Bernal-Castaneda for a chapter that she has yet to write. She hopes to some day be juvenile probation officer who will show kids like her that they deserve love even if it’s tough love.