SAN JOSE, CALIF. —As an undocumented immigrant and minority, Cesar Juarez faced plenty of challenges to get him where he is today. Fortunately, the setbacks he experienced were rewarded by getting to share the voices of marginalized groups and helping students become leaders in their community.
Born in Mexico and having moved to the U.S. at age 7, Juarez grew up with a U.S. school curriculum. When he attended Evergreen Valley College, he took a Mexican-American History class which he loved because it was “the first time [he] got to read and watch documentaries about people that [he] identified with.” After a few classes in, he approached the professor, who was also his college advisor and asked, “Why didn’t I learn this history back in middle school or high school? I felt like I was being robbed of my own history.”
Even though Juarez went to a high school in a majority Latino community, he had never learned his history. His college professor, Dr. Espinosa, very bluntly explained, “If you know your history you will understand power dynamics — you will understand how powerful you are in your community and those people in power want to keep you disempowered and so that’s why you didn’t learn your history.” Juarez then posed the idea of bringing the history of marginalized groups to a high school level and Espinosa responded, “Do that, Juarez. Become a high school teacher.”
Juarez decided to follow in that path and transferred to San Jose State University where he entered the Social Science Single Subject Prep Program to become a high school history teacher. In doing this, he could finally accomplish his goal to share the history, experiences and voices of people of color and other marginalized groups with high school students in hopes of sparking a better understanding of the subject matter.
Some setbacks Juarez faced when trying to become a teacher included having to work as a teacher in a program to gain his credentials, where the professor suggested not working the second or third semester. This posed as an issue for Juarez because the program did not offer any money—and being an immigrant and working class citizen—he was in need of money to pay off bills and other living expenses. Another dilemma he endured had to do with his immigration status. Before 2012, Juarez was not legally able to work which presented as a major roadblock but because of an organization named DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) he was issued a work permit.
Juarez’s three inspirations are Dr. Espinosa, an indigenous group/army in Mexico called the Zapatistas that fought for social change and most importantly his mom, for achieving her dreams in the U.S. as an undocumented woman who knew little to no English. Juarez’s advice to students who are still unsure of what they want to pursue in life is “to be okay with feeling unsure.” With teaching being his fourth career, Mr. Juarez ensures that it’s alright to not know one’s passion because what’s most important is getting an education which can further back up career changes. Juarez concludes with the hope for more minority teachers to create a more equitable society.
Photo Credit: Cesar Juarez
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