SALT LAKE CITY — The Diaz brothers — David, Domacio and Danny — are all college educated professionals.
But they still identify as field workers, says Danny Diaz, one of three brothers whose personal stories inspired the Disney motion picture "McFarland, USA."
"I graduated from Fresno State on a Friday, got my degree on a Friday. Guess what I was doing on Saturday? I was working in the fields with my family, and I had a college degree. And the reason I did that was because we all just graduated from college and there wasn't a job opening right away. The door has to open. So during that summer, I was out there with my family," Diaz said, speaking Tuesday night to youths attending the League of United Latin American Citizens’ activities at the University of Utah.
LULAC, the nation's oldest and largest volunteer-based civil rights organization, is conducting its 86th annual convention in Salt Lake City this week. This is the first time the gathering has been held in Utah, a nod to the Beehive State’s growing diversity, officials said.
Diaz, a teacher and counselor at McFarland High School, which won the California state cross-country championship in 1987, the storyline of the film, took part in a panel discussion with his brothers, Domacio and David, and actor Carlos Pratts, who portrayed Thomas Valles in the motion picture.
While winning a state championship was its own reward, competing as athletes and working hard in school propelled the brothers for college.
Their parents prized education. Their father had only an eighth-grade education and their mother had completed just the third grade and struggled with English. The Diaz brothers are three of seven children.
The boys started their school days working in the fields, then attending class and then returning to the crops. Then, their cross-country coach, Jim White, would conduct a practice just for them. After that, they had to hit the books.
Domacio Diaz said White was their second father. To this day, they refer to him as Mr. White.
"We don't call him Jim just out of respect for who he is," Danny Diaz said.
White, a newcomer to McFarland when he coached the team to the state championship, still lives there. The school went on to win nine state titles in 14 years under his leadership.
While the idea for the motion picture was conceived in the 1990s, it was not made until Disney bought rights to the story and actor Kevin Costner, who played Mr. White in the film, spurred along its making.
In some respects, the making of the movie was life-altering for White, the Diaz brothers and their teammates. But going to college and traveling around the country and the world competing for White was likely more transformative.
After all of those experiences, each of the Diaz brothers has made his way back to McFarland.
David is an educator. Domacio is a homicide detective in Bakersfield and also earned a master's degree.
They came home, they said, to give back and help inspire the next generations of kids growing up in the small, rural farm town to work hard in school and chase their dreams.
"So go get it. You survived seventh and eighth grade. You can survive college," Domacio Diaz said.
Pratts, too, encouraged the youths to follow their passions.
He talked about a telephone call he made to his mother when he landed a part in the television series "The Bridge."
He told her, "I made it."
His mother replied, "Never say you made it because from the moment you say you made it, you have nowhere else to go."
David Diaz said the combination of working in the fields and running cross country made him and his siblings mentally tough.
"We’re very competitive in everything we do. We like to win. Losing is not an option in our family," he said.
If they have any regrets, it's that their father was never able to attend any of their races. He was a foreman on the farms where they worked and leaving work would take money from the family. He's never gone to a game or race for any of his 30-plus grandchildren either.
But the three brothers say they never miss any of their children's activities. The biggest difference between them and their father, however, is that they have professional jobs that allow them the flexibility to take off work.
At their core, the Diaz brothers remain close to their humble beginnings, Danny Diaz said.
"This movie is great, but we don't feel like don’t feel like movie stars or super stars or any kind of stars, actually," he said. "We're humble field workers, and God has graciously allowed us to get educated."
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