Viviendo en la Claridad: “The Teacher”


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“The Teacher” — as his colleagues and friends like to call him, also known as Huguito, is a humble father of indigenous origin that migrated to the United States, determined to change his destiny. In the beginning, despite the cold dawns that hurt his bones, every day he went to the “corner” seeking a job. He offered his services subjecting himself to heavy work, poor pay and mistreatment, all for lacking a “green card” or work permit.

His fight against adversity was nothing new to him. He had worked since his early childhood. While more fortunate children had a mother to wake them up, he got up early by himself and went to the streets to earn a living with his own sweat. His breakfast was modest: black beans, one egg, tortillas and coffee. When his family could not make ends meet, his stomach advised him to steal scraps left by people on the dirty plates of the restaurant where he labored.

He grew up in such poverty that instead of playing marbles or soccer like most kids his age, he had to work. Every day he wore the same clothing that he bought with the money he got from selling matches in the market from the time he was six years old. He had only one pair of pants and shoes which he wore for work, school and church on Sundays. When he turned nine, he left school to work in the fields in order to survive.  Eventually, he made enough profits for his dad to help him open a little store in the town’s market.

By tending the little store, he learned to manage his money. With the sales profits he would buy the comics of Kalimán and other super heroes he admired. He loved reading! In fact, he had been one of the best students when he was still going to school. Reading freed his imagination to travel abroad, and he felt like a king of the world, even if it was only for a few minutes. While other youth focused on living the moment, drinking and regretting their bad luck, Huguito nurtured his mind with hard work and dreams of greatness.

When he turned eighteen, he crossed the American border with the help of a “coyote” and came to reside in LA. At first he stayed at a church’s shelter where eventually he gained everyone’s trust. He assisted the priest, cleaned the floors and the benches, and opened and closed the doors for the youth group. However, because of the discrimination he suffered on the streets for being an undocumented immigrant, and with only few years of schooling and not knowing the language, he started to study English in the evenings. He started reading the newspapers where he learned about working on corners, and his friends adopted him as “The Teacher” as he was always reading while waiting for someone to hire him. Eventually he found a permanent job cleaning fish.

Even though the Teacher never planned having a family, he met his sweetheart and had two beautiful daughters that gave his life a new meaning. (He had not had much of a childhood and his family never celebrated Christmas.) He has no titles, or wealth, but he is building a better world for his daughters. He has returned to adult school. He gets up at four in the morning and takes the Metro to work. On his way there, he reads the politics’ section and the stock market in La Opinión and the Los Angeles Times. On his way to school he listens to a radio program that provides tips on effective parenting.

Even at times when he feels tired, the Teacher takes turns with his wife spending time with their daughters and teaching them life values. On weekends, they go to the park, the museum, or the zoo. He helps them with their homework every day, convinces them to eat their vegetables and reads them a book at bedtime. (The other day, his six year-old daughter Stephanie asked me if I knew how Martin Luther King Jr. died. She had read the story with her dad the evening before.)

Just like MLK, the Teacher passes on to his daughters the value of equality by reminding them that we all have the same rights. That a person does not need school credentials nor to have been born in a golden crib to understand that human beings differ in their skin color, background, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet we all deserve respect and can take control of our lives.

With his life as his testimony, the Teacher shows the importance of making time for family and friends, being humble to continue learning, and to pursue our dreams despite time and hardship.

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About the author

Laura Figueroa

Laura was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the US at age 21 to redesign her life from the bottom-up. Her first jobs in this country included housekeeping and babysitting until she learned the language. Eventually she went back to school and earned a BA in Psychology at California State University and an MBA at Walden University. Laura has worked in the HIV field in different capacities and with people from diverse backgrounds since 1996. First with LA Shanti as Programs Manager and then with John Snow Incorporated in Colorado where she provided capacity building for several ASOs in the Midwest and conducted HIV national trainings. She also did independent consulting work and motivational speaking, Prior to joining Gilead she worked at Boheringer Ingelheim for 2 ½ years, first as Community Liaison and later as HIV National Accounts Manager. Laura is a columnist for xQsí Magazine and a contributing writer to the book Gathering Round the Fire.

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