After completing Bakersfield High School in 2011, Daniela Miramontes was anxious to go to college. She earned grades good enough to get into Cal State Bakersfield, but there was a major hurdle. She had no money, and as an undocumented student her chances of obtaining financial aid from public funds were severely limited.
Enter Jose Arredondo.
Impressed with her drive and enthusiasm for college, Arredondo awarded Miramontes and 14 other undocumented students from humble backgrounds $5,000 each for four years of their education.
"We couldn't stop crying that day," recalls Miramontes. "Our stories and the fact that someone was so nice to give us the money was emotional."
She graduated from CSUB in 2016, currently works for the county and is pursuing a master's degree in public administration. Her goal is to work in law enforcement.
That's why, when news broke about the murder of the well-known businessman this week near Cabo San Lucas, Miramontes said she was incredulous.
"I had to go look it up to see if it was really true that he had died," said Miramontes. "It was so sad."
Her reaction was typical of many other undocumented students, or "Dreamers" as they are called because of their undocumented status. Known mostly for his huge successes as the owner of numerous car dealerships all over Kern County and in Fresno, Arredondo freely admitted his own lack of opportunity in obtaining an education.
Emigrating from Mexico when he was 13 as an undocumented immigrant, his was the classic rags-to-riches story. Already working as a child in Mexico, he continued working in his new country washing cars to help support the family. Perhaps that's one reason Arredondo strongly identified with "Dreamers" who needed help pursuing an education.
"That's why he was so inspirational to us, because like us he knew what it meant to be undocumented," said Miramontes. "But he also said that if he could start over again, he would pursue an education."
I found Arredondo to be a straight talker who said what was on his mind. One of my most poignant memories of him was when, sometime in the 1990s, he branched out and opened a real estate office, a restaurant and a theater at Niles and Baker streets. There was a lot of trash talking — people suspicious that somehow he had obtained all of this through some illegal means.
Rumors were flying that Jose Arredondo was a drug dealer.
I called him about it.
"Those same rumors that you're hearing are the same rumors my loved ones are hearing. And they're vicious," he said, his voice rising. "Come and ask me anything you want for the news and I will answer all of your questions."
We sat down at his office at Family Motors and talked about his business ventures. He felt a lot of the negativity was coming from other business people who were jealous of his success. And then he revealed something else.
"A couple of Bakersfield police officers told me that sooner or later they would catch me," said Arredondo. "They told me they knew I was involved in drugs, and that really upset me."
"Are you a drug dealer?" I asked him.
He didn't flinch, pause or take offense to the question.
"No, I'm not," he answered.
I don't know of any other reputable business owners who would be willing to go on camera and address such an issue.
Another reason Arredondo was respected in the community was that he never forgot his roots and was proud of his heritage.
His parents both performed manual labor, his mother cleaning houses. He attributed his success to advice given him by his parents: Always do what's right and never be impolite.
The homicide investigation is taking place in Cabo San Lucas, and it will most likely be difficult to obtain information from Mexican authorities far removed from Bakersfield.
Retired Lamont businessman Luis Aguilar knew Arredondo for more than 20 years, both being from the state of Michoacan. For years, Aguilar would feed the homeless on Thanksgiving at his popular restaurant, El Pueblo. And Arredondo would be there helping out.
The news that Arredondo had been beaten to death in his home — and, according to some media reports, stabbed — hit Aguilar hard.
"His death gave me great sadness," said Aguilar. "He didn't deserve to die that way."