Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Educational Journey: My Abuelita

My Abuela and Abuelo
Growing up, I always heard about the struggles my Abuelo's (grandparents) faced when they moved from Cuba to the United States in 1961.

In Cuba, my Abuelita (grandma) received her PhD in Mathematics and was a Professor. I was always so proud to hear her accomplishments, but it wasn't until my conversation with her last night while discussing my current studies for my Master's degree that made me really appreciate all she had done and accomplished in education.

My Abuela worked 11 years to attain her PhD in Mathematics in Cuba. When she moved to the United States, her degree credits and course work did not all transfer. So in essence, her PhD was not valid for teaching in this country.

Did she give up? Absolutely not!

Instead she was one of the few that received a special scholarship offered by UCLA in the late 1960's. After all her years of studying in Cuba, she went back to school once again.

During her studies at UCLA, she was asked by a Professor to present a lecture in mathematics as she would teach a regular class. She was hesitant to do so because of the language barrier and not speaking English fluently, but with the encouragement of the Professor, did so. Upon completion of her assignment, the Professor stood amazed at her ability to reason certain theories and calculations that were beyond her peers. When asked where she received her training, she was proud to speak of her course work and studies in Cuba where she was trained in advanced mathematics.

With two small children at the time (my dad and my tia Liz), and my Abuelito working nights and taking care of the kids on Saturday to support her and to allow my Abuelita to study, their sacrifice paid off. She received not one, but two Master's degrees from UCLA in Mathematics and Physics; the only reason she didn't continue towards a second PhD was because a family was more important to her.

What's more, with her skills, experience and knowledge, she could have worked in any school yet chose instead to work in the inner city of Los Angeles in a little city called Watts, one of the most dangerous in the United States known for their gangs and riots in the 60's. Regardless, she went to work loving her students and working hard doing what she loved most: teaching. She was never mocked for her accent but was appreciated by those students for her love for them and desire for them to excel.

She retired from the public school system when I was born in 1984 to spend time with her first grandchild. Her love for family and teaching were important, but family first.

While I do not share the same passion for math and definitely not science, it was my Abuelita who taught me algebra in a way that was so simple that I actually excelled in that course in 7th grade and again in college remembering her method.

My tia Liz followed her steps in pursuing education and achieved a Master's degree. She has also been teaching and loves it with the same passion.

Now, while pursing another degree, I know where I get it from. I love my Abuelita and appreciate her love for education and knowledge. Despite the odds and circumstances, she overcame and accomplished much. She is my educational hero!

I love you Abuelita!