Former CAMPers shoot for the green at charity golf tournament

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For two sons of migrant workers, the move to Sacramento for college was a night-and-day change from their small farming community homes: Sacramento State is home to more students than the combined populations of Galt and Esparto, the respective hometowns of David Garcia and Cuahutemoc Vargas, owners and co-founders of the midtown boutique Kulture.

Despite the dramatic change of scenery, Garcia and Vargas found a home away from home on campus in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), a federally funded scholarship program that helps first-year students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds transition to and succeed in college.

Years later, the former “CAMPers” are parlaying their successful business into a way to give back to the program that gave them so much.

“Sacramento for other people might not seem that big, but to me it was,” Vargas says. “So CAMP helped me a lot and made it easier. Since they did that for me, why wouldn’t I want to give back to them?”

Since 1981, CAMP has helped thousands of students from migrant families adjust to college life. Each year, the program fosters a family-like environment for a cohort of 70 students and provides assistance with everything from financial aid and housing to tutoring and counseling.

Garcia and Vargas met at Sacramento State through mutual friends at CAMP, connecting with each other and other CAMPers through shared experiences and humor. In 2013 at the urging of friends, the duo launched their own clothing line, Keepin’ It Paisa, and two years later opened Kulture at 1006 24th St.

The store celebrates the Latino migrant experience through clothing, art, home decor, and more. Their casual wear line Keepin’ It Paisa – a play on the phrase “keeping it real” – features shirts, hoodies, and hats with Spanish-language slogans and phrases that put a twist on colloquialisms and pop culture references. All the additional art, decorations, and products are hand-selected by Garcia and Vargas with a focus on bringing in local and authentic items.

“Pretty much all of the stuff that’s in here we can relate to,” Vargas says.

“People like hearing stories about, ‘Oh, where did this come from?'” Garcia says. “So they buy the story behind it, too; it’s not just an object.”

But for the two entrepreneurs, the best byproduct of their business is the ability to provide the same opportunities CAMP provided them to the next generation of CAMPers, which is what the Keepin’ It Paisa Charity Golf Tournament is all about.

Now in its third year, the tournament raises money that benefits CAMP students. The field has expanded from 80 players its first year to more than 140 in the 2016 competition, which will be held May 27 at Cherry Island Golf Course in Elverta. Proceeds go toward scholarships and an end-of-the-year mixer for CAMP students.

“In a classroom setting, some people are going to listen and focus, some people are going to tune out,” says Garcia, who met his wife through CAMP. “But in that atmosphere, it’s different if you’re out there playing volleyball or whatever, [students] come up to you and feel more comfortable.”

Few better understand the impact of CAMP than Vargas and Garcia; today, they are able to inspire a new generation of CAMPers to pursue their loftiest aspirations.

“I want to let people know that, yes, you can do it,” Vargas says. “Even if it doesn’t work out, go for it and follow your instincts. Don’t be afraid.”

Click here for more information about the Keepin It Paisa Golf Tournament and how to register.

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Beijing restaurateur brings some California love to China’s dining scene

Alan Wong at his restaurant Hatsune Sushi in Beijing
Alan Wong at his Hatsune Sushi restaurant in Beijing in 2008. (Sacramento State/Craig Koscho)

In a city with 22 million people and thousands of dining options, Alan Wong has carved out a veritable culinary empire. This summer, his gastronomic domain will expand to the one of the happiest places on earth.

Wong (’00, Philosophy) owns and operates 12 upscale, California-style sushi restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai, and this June, he will open his 13th in the brand-new Shanghai Disneyland.

In the 15 years since he moved to China, the Sacramento native has established himself as a pioneer of the dining scene in the second-largest consumer market in the world. But his eatery in the extraordinarily exclusive Shanghai Disneyland – which opens June 16 – will be one of the crown jewels of his expansive portfolio.

Wong was the first to bring California-style sushi to Beijing, in 2001. His first venture, Hatsune Sushi, was a hit with international tourists and expatriates.

A dozen restaurants and more than 800 employees later, Wong says his philosophy education from Sacramento State still informs his business practices.

“I look at any given problem from various directions so I have a wider insight to find a solution,” Wong told Sac State Magazine in 2008. “Critical thinking, logic, and theories of metaphysics train you to be open-minded.”

That metaphysical thinking has certainly paid off, and by this summer, more diners than ever will be getting a taste of Sacramento more than 6,000 miles away.

Learn more about Alan Wong and check out his story at The Sacramento Bee.

Thinking (and painting) outside the box

Sarah Billingsley with her painted SN&R newsstand
Sarah Billingsley shows off the Sacramento News & Review “art rack” she painted in 2007. (Jenni Murphy)

A colorful, floral-painted newspaper box is one of the first things to welcome students to campus near the bus stop on State University Drive. And while thousands walk past the box every day, few know the story behind it.

In 2007, as city officials discussed removing oft-vandalized sidewalk news boxes altogether, the Sacramento News & Review launched the SN&R Newsstand Art Project. Under the banner of “making news beautiful,” the local paper tapped dozens of artists to turn newsstands into “art racks” with the dual purpose of dissuading vandals and persuading the city to keep newsstands on Sacramento sidewalks.

One of the very first painters? Sacramento State’s own Sarah Billingsley (’13, M.A. Communications), a proud alumna and current marketing communications director for the College of Continuing Education. She worked at SN&R with husband, Michael, who conceived and launched the project, before they both came to Sacramento State, where they earned their master’s degrees.

“I took a big leap of faith and left my old career and came back to college,” Billingsley says, “and there was my art box that I drove by every day.”

For the design, Billingsley found inspiration in a poem about spring written by her father, who had passed away earlier that year. Her painting brought to life her father’s words, some of which were included in SN&R’s advertisement for the project:

“There is awareness of life now, and purpose. In the arms of Spring is perfection and joy.”

Billingsley’s box art helped kick off a project that would eventually lead to a wave of new public artworks to transform boring into beautiful. (The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission’s Capitol Box Art Project is one of the most recent examples.) And while Billingsley may not self-identify as an artist, her art has endured for nearly a decade, a legacy that goes far beyond the campus.