Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mr. Jaime Escalante

The LA Times recently ran a piece on Mr. Jaime Escalante, the inspiration behind the movie Stand and Deliver. This man inspired a generation of disenfranchised High School students to pursue a college education and defy the odds. His message was simple-- that in order to succeed, all a person needs is the desire to prevail (aka "ganas" in spanish). These former High School students who were raised in under-served communities are now lawyers, engineers, doctors and leaders in their communities.

After reading about this remarkable man, i began to recall instances where this"ganas" message had been drilled through my thick skull.

Mentors never really leave you; their influence is permanent.

Although a quiet and mischivious boy, i was fortunate to have several mentors who kindly took time to teach me lessons that later helped me tremendously. One of them was an old and widowed man who lived downstairs from our apartment complex. Mr. Tony was my music teacher. He would charge me $5/month to teach me how to sing and play an old rusty guitar; i would scrape what i could from Mom to pay the old man although he didn't mind when all i could afford was $2. Two important lessons i learned from this man were: 1) Singing clears the soul, 2) "Practica" is the key to greatness.

We would sing cantina songs together and shuckle while improvising songs about Mexican drug lords. He told me i was a fast learner but lacked motivation to practice. When i would stare at my swollen fingers, ready to complain about the rusty metal strings, he would remind me that nothing is easy, referring to his hands marked with rheumatoid nodules. "To become great, one needs to practice with intent," he would say.

His words have never resonated more...

My 5th and 6th grade teacher treated me like her son. Every so often the word "Ma" would slip from my lips in the classroom. It was during those years that i was scared to speak because my accent was heavy; i would make embarrasing English language blunders (e.g. pronounce 'bitch' and 'fuck' when trying to refer to 'beach' and 'fork'). Like most foreign students i learned the foul words first and struggled assimilating into a new culture. At one point i inadvertently ditched school thinking the 12:30p lunch bell meant school's out, as that was the custom in Mexican schools.

Well, somehow she saw potential in that scared boy. She spent extra time tutoring me in English. After she read a barely legible essay on how i wanted to finish High School (something my father was unfortunately unable to do), she instilled in me the idea of attending college. She made the idea sound like the most difficult and rewarding accomplishment a kid could make. I never forgot her smile and her sense of urgency while explaining the 'bachelors' and 'Masters' degree. She believed in me...

To all the mentors out there who took the time, who gave a sh*t, may god bless you.


o.O said...

"To become great, one needs to practice with intent" I love that! I manage to learn that from experiences and people I've met. I don't believe in talent, I believe in hard work.

I love your stories, thanks for the encouragement and posting this up. I am in process where I need a change of scenery.

Ms. Drago said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog...I responded to you there.

I've been perusing your blog and really enjoy your insights. I'll definitely be reading more.

peace said...