Much like encountering UFOs or talking animals, receiving a new television or a new car on a national talk show may seem like an unlikely experience delegated to blurry YouTube videos and urban legends of friends of friends’ sightings. But for third-year Sharon Bustamante, this experience became a reality when she was given exactly those things on the Feb. 17 airing of the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Growing up in a public housing community in Boyle Heights, there were many instances when Sharon had to act as more than an older sister to her five younger siblings. “Our mom would never let us go out of the house (because it wasn’t that safe) so I would have to come up with activities for my siblings to do while indoors and help them focus on their homework,” Sharon explained. Their frequent time indoors in close quarters is what Sharon believes allowed the six siblings to remain extremely close throughout their childhood until now, despite the family constantly facing financial adversity.
This closeness is part of what compelled one of Sharon’s younger sisters, Stephanie, to write to the Ellen DeGeneres Show website about Sharon’s admiration of Ellen DeGeneres and of how Sharon is “a huge role model and practically a third parent (to her).”
Sharon had already enjoyed attending a taping of the show in the past and was expecting the same experience for her second time in the studio. What she was not expecting, however, was getting called from the audience and being interviewed by Ellen herself. “I was never suspicious about all this at any point. I couldn’t think of anything when it happened. I was just trying to fathom the fact that (Ellen) called my name,” Sharon accounted while mentally reliving the moment. “I was completely starstruck. She had the most beautiful blue eyes and flawless skin.”
Having been informed that Sharon did not have a TV in her apartment and watched the Ellen DeGeneres Show on YouTube, DeGeneres proceeded to gift her with a 50-inch Insignia flat screen and a couple minutes later, a new five-door Mazda 3. “It was just surprise after surprise,” said Sharon. And the surprises did not end on air. They continued backstage when DeGeneres gifted Sharon’s parents with yet another TV, each of her siblings with a Nintendo Wii console and Sharon with a Roku Box, five years of Netflix and one year of Hulu Plus.
While the TV is currently sitting in her apartment, Sharon will not be receiving the car until May, when Mazda will deliver it. As for the actual ownership of the car, Sharon is still undecided. “As much as I appreciate it, I know my dad would benefit more from the car,” Sharon said while expressing her concern about her dad’s 45-minute commute from Boyle Heights to Malibu every day in a car of poor condition. Regardless, Sharon’s family insists she keep the car. “They keep telling me, you deserve it. My dad’s first car was a Mazda too,” Sharon said.
If Sharon takes the car, she would be able to drive to her weekend job in Bellflower (which she currently takes the Metrolink to) and take on a tutoring job that would bring her one step closer to her tentative goal of becoming an English teacher. As a first-generation college student, Sharon saw the importance of education through her parents’ tribulations. “I would see how hard they worked and struggled financially and they made it obvious that I should go to college to not be in their position,” Sharon explained.
Her desire to teach also stems from the education she received in Boyle Heights. “Education is so different in low-income communities. Though there were a lot of good influential teachers, I also had experiences with teachers who clearly didn’t care and had no motivation to teach the students,” said Sharon. “If I were to go into teaching, it would be based on these bad experiences and my desire to not be that kind of teacher.”
Sharon, however, isn’t completely sure about her teaching career yet. “For some reason, I feel like there’s something different I want to do,” Sharon mused. As a women’s studies major, she also has an inkling to work for organizations that fund political female candidates.
Regardless of her future career goals, Sharon’s immediate goals include attending another Ellen DeGeneres show taping with her siblings and finishing college with flying colors with the support of her family. “I have a lot of responsibility but it’s cool and beneficial to my siblings that I get to make the first mistake (as a college student),” Sharon stated. “It’s a good kind of pressure and I’ll always have five reminders to be able to do well.”