I am Mexican-American, and I was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico. All of my relatives are from New Mexico–my family has been there since the beginning, from before the border was changed so that New Mexico was no longer a part of Mexico, but a part of the United States. In this sense, I have always been ”American”. I grew up in Denver, Colorado in the housing projects. I have a brother and a sister who are both younger than I. My family received welfare and always lived far below the poverty level.
My brother, sister, and I were raised solely by my mother. Sometimes my mother would work outside the home, so we had a great deal of responsibility. I was the oldest, and I had to make sure that everyone did their chores and their homework. I did my homework without any help, since my mother had only a third grade education. Sometimes she would relieve me of some of my chores so that I could do extra homework. In this way she showed me how much she valued education.
I attended Smedley Elementary School, Horace Mann Junior High School, and North High School, all in Denver. When I was growing up, we faced serious obstacles like poverty and discrimination. I was always aware of the notion that Mexican-Americans were not able to reach certain levels of success. I had a dream when I was small that I would be a brain surgeon and that I would discover something fabulous. However, that was one of those dreams that was crushed by the very subtle yet pervasive message that people who looked like me could not achieve this. Every year, my public school teachers would share statistical information with our class showing that kids with all of my characteristics, such as being on welfare, coming from a single-parent home with an income below the poverty level, and living in the housing projects, were likely to fail. A chart in the classroom showed different incomes for different families, and I found out that the income for my family was so low that it was off the chart. I thought that if people were that poor, they wouldn’t even be able to live. I laughed to myself because it was my goal at that time to reach the poverty line.
I felt invisible in school, but I wanted to succeed. There was no way I was going to inherit money or a job, so I knew I had to be a good student. I thought that English class was really unmanageable, because I never knew what the teacher expected and in history class, we never talked about people that I felt I could relate to. Out of all the different subjects in school, I liked mathematics the best. With mathematics, I found that if I followed the rules, I would get the right answer. It didn’t matter what the teacher thought, because there was only one answer that was right. I stopped listening to remarks that were negative. I just kept on going with my education. I decided that when I hit that brick wall, I’d hit that brick wall and let the wall stop me, rather than just stopping myself before I’d even tried. I graduated from high school, I was sixth in my class. After high school, I started college at the University of Denver as a mathematics major. I did very well in this program, and I went on to the University of Colorado, Boulder for my master’s degree.
After I had finished my master’s degree, I still wanted to get a Ph.D. Considering the discrimination I had faced, everything else seemed easy. When I went to college, I knew I had to work twice as hard as anybody else just to prove that I had equal abilities. This made me a very hard worker, and an extremely persistent individual. I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder. My current title is professor of mathematics at Phoenix College, which is part of the ten college system of Maricopa County Community Colleges. I teach mathematics from arithmetic to calculus and differential equations. From my experiences I have learned that if you have a dream, God has given you the ability to make that dream come true. If someone tells you differently, they are absolutely wrong.