As a teenager, Jesus Vargas arrived in America with little more than a few video games and a positive attitude.
"I didn't know any English at all. Nothing," said Vargas, now 23. "We just spoke Spanish at home."
Hailing from Tecoman, a city of about 90,000 in the Mexican state of Colima, Vargas was enrolled as a freshman in Eisenhower High School in Rialto — at the age of 16.
"It was tough. I felt out of place."
Luckily for Vargas, he had completed "escuela secundaria" (secondary school) in Mexico and was adequately prepared to tackle a California education.
Determined to succeed, he spent the first half year as a freshman. After the next semester he was elevated to sophomore, and by the time he was 18 he had joined his senior class.
"The last six months I was really focused. The toughest was my economics class. I didn't know anything about the American economy. I still made it through though."
But it was Vargas' positive attitude that helped him become immersed in American life. When most students were at Mt. Baldy or cruising Ontario Mills Mall on senior ditch day, he was at school.
"It was just a handful of kids, and I was one of them."
He also benefited from mentoring by his U.S. History teacher, Mr. Elliott. The teacher often made Vargas stand up and read his paper, which helped him conquer his fear of public speaking.
Along the way, Vargas, who regularly watched MTV as a child in Mexico, discovered the nu-Metal, Rap group Linkin Park, whose lyrics transfixed him. He first listened to their music on a CD player and later put the music on his omnipresent iPod, and the skater dude would print out Linkin Park's lyrics and assemble them in a notebook.
He also got an Xbox 360, which allowed him to connect with others playing Halo 3 via a headset with a microphone.
"Playing video games online helped me a lot to speak English. I had to talk to people."
After graduating from high school, Vargas worked in construction. Later he worked as a Bobcat driver loading merchandise, then as a forklift operator at warehouses. He also displayed an enthusiastic work ethic. He would work overtime when offered and wake up at 4:30 in the morning if needed.
"I'd sleep, drink a little coffee and be ready to go."
When the economy took a nosedive, Vargas was laid off, but he soon found an opportunity when his older sister, Norma, purchased Submarine Express, a popular Hesperia eatery since the 1980s. Today he wears many hats: taking sandwich orders, waving a promotional sign in front of the shop and doing whatever he can to help out. He even helps other business owners when the need arises.
"He's just a nice guy," said Shelly Drylie, owner of Bodacious Bundts. "It seems he's always in a nice mood. He's always helpful. He even comes by and takes out my trash."
But Vargas insists, "I'm just myself. That's just me."
Vargas is grateful for his new life. While his parents work the agriculture fields is Mexico, he is looking toward a promising future in America. But it was a former girlfriend who really helped him put his future into perspective and encourage him to go to college.
"She told me, 'Do it for your parents, do it for yourself, and do it for me,'" he said. "She really changed my life."
Not surprisingly, he plans on pursuing a career in video game design. He hopes to begin his college career at Victor Valley College, then he'll reach for bigger goals.
"This a great country for opportunities," he said. "If you have dreams this is the place to do it."