Orange Blossom queen gives hope despite challenging year

Lindsay High School class of 2016 graduate Jimena Meza sees Orange Blossom Festival queen honor as an opportunity to inspire others

LINDSAY – Due to continued concerns about COVID-19, the Orange Blossom Festival (OBF) committee in Linday decided to cancel their revered spring time event for the second straight year.

Still, the committee wants to pay tribute to the citrus crops that are central to the culture and economy of Lindsay. In so doing they will maintain their tradition of honoring one of its best and brightest by crowning Jimena Meza as this year’s Orange Blossom Festival Queen. And Jimena is already proving to be the right person for the role.

As she has done throughout her life, she sees hope and opportunity in this year’s set of challenges. While the limitations from the pandemic sadden Jimena, all that matters, she said, is that other students see her accomplishments as proof that they, too, can achieve more.

“It means that I get to inspire other girls like me, other girls with my background,” Jimena said. “You don’t typically see a small-town girl with immigrant parents who grew up working in the fields, a low income, making it this far and then being able to go back to their community and help out.”

Jimena’s background is familiar to many young people in Lindsay. Her parents, Rosario and Gerardo Meza, emigrated from Mexico to Lindsay when they were 19. They hoped to give their children better opportunities. But that would require a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

The first sacrifice was leaving their home behind to make the difficult journey to the U.S. Since they arrived in America, they have worked year after year in the Central Valley’s fields and orchards to provide for their family. Jimena and her three siblings would often work with them.

This experience instilled in Jimena a determination to make the most of her parents’ sacrifices. Now, close to the age her parents were when they migrated to the U.S., Jimena has already accomplished much. Getting there wasn’t easy, though. Growing up, Jimena was an English learner trying to balance school, volunteering and sports while helping her family at home and working on weekends. She thanks the teachers and counselors in her life for helping her succeed.

“I didn’t know much English when I first started going to school,” Jimena said. “I learned through cartoons and through teachers who took it upon themselves to help me. I struggled in math. I struggled in English. And if it wasn’t for those teachers, I would have probably given up along the way.”

Because of those teachers, and because Jimena didn’t give up, she graduated high school in the top three of her 2016 class.

But college was not a given for Jimena. Jimena explained that leaving home to go to college can be challenging and scary, especially for girls and their families. A lot of families expect their daughters to remain at home, Jimena said. But the 2021 OBF Queen wants them to know that college is possible for them and provides more opportunities.

“Pursuing a higher education might not be everyone’s goal,” she said, “but in the long run, it benefits you. It opens doors for you.”

Jimena carried the torch of hope her parents lit when they left Mexico. Despite their fears and the challenges it posed for their family, Jimena’s parents supported her decision to go to college. And her parents couldn’t be prouder.

Jimena became the first generation in her family to graduate college. In the spring of 2020, she graduated magna cum laude from California State University, Stanislaus, earning her bachelor of arts degree in history. Jimena is a pioneer in her family. One of her younger sisters is already following in her footsteps, also attending CSU, Stanislaus. And Jimena wants to pass that torch of hope to other young people as a teacher.

She is currently working toward her single subject credential through CSU, Stanislaus. She is also student teaching virtually at Buhach Colony High School while volunteering to help high school seniors complete their college and financial aid applications. In May, she will receive her credential. Then, this daughter of Lindsay plans to return home. She hopes to support and encourage young people in her community, just like teachers and counselors did for her.

Until then, Jimena wants all students to know they are not on their own. She remembers how difficult asking for help was when she was a teenager. But she urges young people to ask for help and to take advantage of resources available to them.

“There are so many resources in Lindsay, despite being a small community,” she said. “They are very dedicated to their students.”

Jimena also encourages young people not to give up.

“We need to believe in ourselves,” she said. “We need to stay true to our values and just making sure that we accomplish those goals because, even though how far-fetched we might think they are, how we might doubt ourselves at times, we can do it.”

In Jimena, we see that those who set goals, work hard, and brave the unknown—those pioneers who dare to hope—can not only reap the rewards of their labor but also inspire others.

“I know sometimes it can be hard to see how much you’ve accomplished when it’s not actually giving anything back to you in the moment,” Jimena said of her own journey.

But Jimena’s parents dared to hope for a better future for their children. Now those hopes begin coming into full bloom. As Jimena prepares to receive her credential and accept the honor of Orange Blossom Festival Queen, she has hopes of her own: hopes of a better future for the next generations of Lindsay’s children.

“I’m almost done here,” she said of her time at CSU, Stanislaus, “and I’ll be able to start doing what I planned to do when I started this: helping kids.”

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