PAYING IT FORWARD

by Marilyn Roca Enriquez in


 Octavio Gonzalez with his mentor Martin Sheen. Photo Courtesy of Octavio Gonzalez

Octavio Gonzalez with his mentor Martin Sheen. Photo Courtesy of Octavio Gonzalez

In 1958, Hispanic American Ramón Estévez considered what to do after high school. In 2002, Mexican-American Octavio González was faced with the same question. Separated by decades but united by a common heritage, these two men had different points of view in their outlook toward higher education.

Ramón never went to college. Instead, he went to New York to seek fame and fortune. The world would come to know him as the award-winning stage, television and movie star Martin Sheen.

In 1999, "The West Wing" premiered with Sheen as its star. Not long after that, González had a chance encounter with Sheen on the campus of Georgetown University. "That is a pretty funny story,” Gonzalez told Out-looK-12’s Cooper in 2007. “At the end of my freshman year at Georgetown, 'West Wing' came on campus to film a graduation scene. It was in front of our main building. And, in the show, Pres-ident Bartlett's daughter graduates from Georgetown University. There were some fliers posted for students to play extras in the graduation scene, so I signed up. I had to put on a robe and pretend to graduate.

Martin was great. He was standing out there surrounded by students whenever he had a break from filming and didn't mind at all. I went up to him with a friend to see if I could get a picture of him because I am a huge fan of  'The West Wing', but I'm probably a bigger fan of the causes that Martin adopts.

I was able to get a picture of him, and in the 10 seconds, I had with him,  mentioned to him that I was from Los Angeles, and I knew a Jesuit priest who is one of Martin's good friends. He was the pastor of the parish near where I live. And that's all I got a chance to say to him.” 

The story would have ended there except that González decided to send the pictures he took to Sheen.  "I took a shot and sent them over to Warner Bros. to see if I could get them autographed by Martin. I wrote a letter and said, 'I am sure you don't remember me. I'm a freshman at Georgetown, Octavio González. I was an extra, and I also just want to tell you what a big fan I am.' Martin Sheen is really one of my heroes. So I basically told him all that and sent it along-just a fan looking for an autograph."

 Octavio Gonzalez with his mentor Martin Sheen. Photo Courtesy of Octavio Gonzalez

Octavio Gonzalez with his mentor Martin Sheen. Photo Courtesy of Octavio Gonzalez

Fate took a shine to González. Not only did his letter make it out of the Warner Bros.' slush pile in the mailroom-Sheen answered it. But González almost missed getting that response.

"I went to Central California to work at a camp for migrant children. And, while I was gone, Martin not only mailed back the picture with an autograph, he attached a nice note saying, 'Of course, I remember you. You mentioned Father Greg Boyle over in East LA. Before you go back to school, I'd like a chance to get together with you and him.' I didn't get this letter until about two or three weeks before I left for Georgetown, and I was afraid I missed the chance to meet up with him again. But, when I called him, we worked it out. We ended up going to Mass together, and we chatted and had a great time."

Sheen told Hispanic Outlook Magazine that he could see that González was an "extraordinary young man." He decided to keep in touch with González and help him any way he could to complete his education. González says, "The next times he was in D.C., he would give me a call. Whenever he was filming, there we would get together, and when I'd get back to LA., I'd call, and we'd get together. And that's how the relationship grew. He's such a personable person."

"He said to me that, if I ever needed him, I could count on him. He helped me throughout my Georgetown experience. I probably would not have been able to do it without his help. He, in his very quiet way, would say, 'If there is anything you need, come to me.' It turns out Georgetown is a very expensive school. In the last two years, in particular, a lot of ex-penses came up that he was able to help me out with. I could not have managed without him."

Martin is humble, and in his own quiet way, he has such a huge impact-on so many people. His causes, his involvement in social causes in my neighborhood in East L.A., they're not big publicity things. He doesn't do it because it plays well in the papers. And he doesn't do it to advance his career. He does it in such a quiet way that people don't realize he's working behind the scenes to make things happen and make life better for some people.

A lot of people owe him a debt of gratitude and probably don't even know it. And that's who Martin really is."