David Garcia and Cuahutemoc Vargas were classic cases of small fish in a big pond when they arrived at Sacramento State, home to more students than the combined populations of their respective central valley farming hometowns.
But Garcia and Vargas, the sons of migrant workers and owners of midtown boutique Kulture, found a home away from home on campus in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), which paved the way for them and other students from similar backgrounds to succeed in college.
They never forgot where they came from, and they never forgot what CAMP did for them, which is why this month they’re aiming for the green by parlaying their entrepreneurial success into a way to give back with their third-annual Keepin’ It Paisa charity golf tournament Friday, May 27.
“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?”
For many students from small communities, the transition to a major university can be overwhelming, which is why, since 1981, CAMP has helped thousands of Sacramento State students from migrant and seasonal farming 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.
It was through mutual friends at CAMP that Garcia and Vargas first met, and in 2013 they launched their own clothing line, Keepin’ It Paisa. The casualwear line celebrates the Latino migrant experience, featuring shirts, hats, and hoodies with Spanish-language slogans and phrases that put a twist on popular colloquialisms and pop culture references. (A T-shirt bearing the Sacramento Kings logo instead reads “Reyes”; a golf hat resembling the Callaway Golf logo in fact says “CálleteWey” – a common phrase that translates to “Shut up, fool.”)
Their clothing line struck a chord in Sacramento, and two years later the duo opened their very own brick-and-mortar storefront in the heart of midtown on 24th Street. Since opening in 2015, Kulture has grown from a room with a single rack of shirts and hats into a space twice the size that houses clothing, art, home décor, and more, all of which embody and celebrate the culture from which Garcia and Vargas hail.
“Pretty much all of the stuff that’s in here we can relate to,” Vargas says. “We have a story for everything, like I used to drink my drinks in these jarritos, or I used to have that Aztec calendar.”
“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 chance to give back to the program that gave them so much, which is why they founded the Keepin’ It Paisa golf tournament in 2014.
In three years, the field has expanded from 80 players to more than 140. This year’s competition will be held at Cherry Island Golf Course in Elverta. Proceeds go toward scholarships and an end-of-the-year mixer for current CAMP students who, if not for the program, often can feel incredibly small in a very big place, just as Garcia and Vargas once did.
“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 … [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 even 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.”
Photo: David Garcia (left) and Cuahutemoc Vargas (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)