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Katrina Survivor: Artist Makes a New Home on Campus
Elijah Espinoza evacuated his dorms at William Carey College in Gulf Port, Miss., only to ride out Hurricane Katrina with his father in a two-story apartment.

Feb. 16, 2006
by Gail Matsunaga

Junior art major Elijah Espinoza was only in his third week of classes at William Carey College in Gulf Port, Miss., when Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29.

"We were told to evacuate our dorms Saturday," he says. "I stayed until Sunday, because I was going to leave with a friend to Georgia."

Meanwhile, he urged his dad, who lives minutes from campus, "to get out of there. But, he didn't think it was going to come, he thought it was going to hit New Orleans." So, Espinoza decided to stick it out with him.

Miraculously, while every building surrounding them was destroyed, the only damage sustained by his father's apartment building was to the second-story roof — his unit was on the first floor. At William Carey, half the campus was ruined.

Three days later, an uncle — whose family he visited every summer in Fullerton — sent Espinoza a plane ticket to stay with them. Although it was too late to enroll for fall classes, he started working for his uncle's staffing service in Orange, where he continues to work part time.

Espinoza had gone to school on a scholarship, but now, as an out-of-state student, didn't know how he was going to pull it off financially.

"Mr. [Dean] Harris, [assistant dean of the College of the Arts], and Mr. Larry Johnson [chair and professor of art] helped out a lot. The first day I came here to visit, they took out a day of their schedule to talk to me, to go through my credits. I didn't expect that. I still have to go and really thank them — I don't even know what to say."

Regarding his studies, he says, "I wasn't sure whether I'd go into graphic design, but now I think I will. But, they also have illustration, which they didn't at my other school, so I'm also thinking about that."

Fortuitously, Espinoza's future had included Southern California after graduating.

"I always knew I wanted to come out here for my career, to get started. Gulf Port is a small town. For a lot of people a good-paying job is on the shrimp boats."

Moving to a new area has brought on interesting adjustments. "My other school had 800 students, tops — and that was a school record. There's so many people here, so many ethnic backgrounds. There were 490 in my high school graduating class and I was the only Hispanic person."

With all that's happened to him — the uprooting, the changes — Espinoza says, "I'm just glad to be back in school."


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Elijah Espinoza
Elijah Espinoza now lives with his uncle in Fullerton and is studying art at Cal State Fullerton.

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